Sunday, January 3, 2010

Books I'm Reading: Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten 20th Century

Just finished reading Tony Judt's Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (Penguin, 2008). I can't remember where I picked this up, but I know Tony Judt's writing from The New York Review of Books, and this turned out to be a collection of his essays/reviews mostly from that publication, some of which I read years ago when they first appeared. I wasn't disappointed because of that. In fact, I was rather pleased that it contained Judt's extended essay on Kennedy, Krushchev, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is among the the New York Review pieces that have always stood out in my mind. It was a pleasure to go through it again. Coincidentally, my reading of it coincides with the 40th anniversary of the start of Kennedy's presidential election campaign, in early 1960. The essay makes one very glad that we had Kennedy in the White House at the time. It's remarkable how level-headed and restrained Kennedy was in the face of much advice aimed at encouraging the most belligerent and provocative of routes through the crisis. I shudder to think what would have happened if a man like George W. Bush had been our president then.

The essays in the collection have been chosen not because each addresses a common theme, but because, taken together, they make the case obliquely that we have already forgotten (to our peril) many of the lessons the bellicose 20th century has given us--although the point is here and there made explicitly as well. Excellent writing throughout. Recommended.

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