Postwar By Tony Judt


I started reading this book some time ago, and it’s been slow going so far. At 900 pages, at the rate I’m going I won’t be finished until sometime in 2016.  So, as an added incentive to get reading, I thought I’d admit on the blog that I was trying to get this book finished. Maybe admitting publicly would then force me to read more.

I did some promotional work for the publisher when the book was first published, so I received my copy for free.  That was back in 2006.  It’s been sitting on the shelf ever since, mocking my lack of ambition to read it.

I do have an interest in the subject, so it’s not at all a ‘boring’ book. Here in the US, the usual extent of instruction on recent European History goes something like this; WWII ends in 1945 –  US and USSR enter Cold War – Berlin Wall comes down in 1989. I’m exaggerating a little, but there are a lot of details I’ve been learning that I only had the vaguest familiarity with.  He covers the big name players and events like Stalin, De Gaulle, Churchill, and the Cold War, but he spends just as much time on the lesser known figures and incidents as well.  So one of the problem with the book, is that once Judt reviews something new, I have to then read more about the incident or person referred to.  I’ll end up reading three pages a day of the book, and then spend the next two hours looking up further information on people like Imre Nagy, Clement Atlee, George Marshall, and the riots in Berlin of 1953.  All very interesting, but  slow going with the frequent trips to Wikipedia and other sites for further information.

He somehow manages to keep his own opinions out of the book, most of time anyway, which I would think would be hard to do in one with the focus on political history. In a later book, ‘The Memory Chalet’, a memoir of his battle with ALS, he does reveal quite a lot about himself. That book is very moving and led me to finally read this one. Tony Judt died from ALS in 2010, aged 62.

The second problem is that by the time I get a chance to read I’m already tired from running around after Mr. C all day, so it’s usually late at night and I’m half asleep. Since the book is 900 pages, it is very heavy, and I have sometimes had it fall on my head and wake me up within seconds of my dozing off after having read a paragraph or two.

Maybe if I up my reading from three pages a day to five I can finish in 2015 instead of 2016.



2 thoughts on “Postwar By Tony Judt

  1. I read this book a few years back while I was living in Germany. Like you, I’d learned all about WW2 at school and the rise of the European Union, but I’d never been taught how Germany went from near desolation at the end of the war to a global economic powerhouse within 20 years (other than being aware of the Macarthur plan). It is an incredibly interesting book.
    The one thing I was most shocked about was the wholesale ethnic cleansing of central Europe, by moving communities from areas they’d lived for hundreds of years back to the land of their forebears. I was astonished this isn’t more widely known.
    It’s a very good book. Keep plugging away, it will be worth the effort.

    • I’m about half way through now, it is very good. It seems as though the effects of some of the postwar ethnic cleaning are still being seen today, such as in Ukraine. I was surprised to find out that at the time of independence that the Estonians were outnumbered by Russians in their own country, due to Stalin moving so many people out of the country. Look up the “Jewish Autonomous Oblast”, for a truly astonishing story of Soviet ethnic cleansing. I wonder if some Western leaders are aware of some of this recent history.

      Tony Judt was interviewed by Terry Gross on her radio program “Fresh Air” for about an hour. I’m not sure if old interviews can be streamed, but it’s worth tracking down.

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