The accelerating changes of the past generation have been accompanied by a similarly accelerated amnesia. The 20th century has become "history" at an unprecedented rate. The world of 2007 was so utterly unlike that of even 1987, much less any earlier time, that we have lost touch with our immediate past even before we have begun to make sense of it - and the results are proving calamitous.In less than a generation, the headlong advance of globalization has altered structures of thought that had been essentially unchanged since the European industrial revolution. As a result, we have lost touch with a century of social thought and socially motivated activism. In the 24 essays in Reappraisals, Judt resurrects the key aspects of the world we have lost to remind us how important they still are to us now and to our future.
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Judt, a European-born New Yorker and academic, analyzes the failings of his fellow leftists in clear-eyed essays. There are 24 essays, most of which appeared as extended reviews in The New York Review of Books.
He blames the left for their unwillingness to acknowledge that the only examples of communist governments have all taken the form of dictatorships. He cites leftist intellectual willingness to make exceptions for The Greater Good and blindness to Stalin--even when presented with proof--and he blames his fellow leftist intellectuals for an unwillingness to consider that yes, there were communists in the US State Department, and that while McCarthy was wrong about everything else, he may have been right about this.
Judt was on a kibbutz during the Six Day War, when Jordan, Syria and Egypt moved to crush Israel. Israel won not by a shofar, but when the Egyptian air force was burned into the desert. He acknowledges the cost of Zionism--Israeli land gained is Arab land lost is peace lost--and he knows the answer is Land For Peace. In an essay on Edward Said, he talks about Palestinian weakness and ineptitude in face of Israeli duplicity, and later, the inevitable charges of anti-Semitism that follow criticism of the settlements, and the inability of American Jews to see Israel through the eyes of the rest of the world, and the Israeli's inability to create a country that can stand without America's help.
Judt is not perfect. There is some score-settling among fellow leftists that comes across as Paris cafe bickering.
In his review of William Bundy's "Tangled Web" he excoriates Nixon and Kissinger's destructive narcissistic personal foreign policy--cutting out State and CIA--lauds Shuttle Diplomacy, but doesn't see that they have the same roots. The opening to China is seen as brilliant in of itself, but Bundy (and Judt) take at face value the Soviet/Russian claim that the overtures to China had nothing to do with the Soviet summit and SALT treaty.
Finally, his review of "The Cold War: A New History" (2005) by John Lewis Gaddis (who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Biography), is worth the price of the book. Gaddis's book is eviscerated as shallow and narrow, a jingoistic account of a victory that is an insight to American policymakers that made me wonder if the publisher wasn't FOX News Books. But Judt's view is European, and Gaddis's is American, and we return to the blind spot of the Left: nuclear war. Under the threat of mutually assured destruction, the Right races to the expedient self-serving simple choice, and everyone suffers.
Judt ends with the spectre haunting the West — the spectre of nationalism.
The performance is excellent. Judt's forté is France, so there is more than the usual mot juste. While it is normally just an affectation, like a pipe, pipe cleaner, tobacco, tobacco pouch, tamper and the outsized search for The Ashtray so we can Ring It Like A Schoolbell, in an audio book it transcends affectation to annoyance.
I wasn't familiar with Judt before reading this book, and I had only a passing knowledge of many of the featured people.
The essays seem somewhat Judeo-centric, but they are fascinating and they have introduced me to people and philosophies I'll enjoy pursuing.
The essays on the more recent time periods (newer than 2003) seemed hollow, considering the economic and political changes of the past 18 months. I enjoyed all the others.