Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tony Judt’s Thinking the Twentieth Century

I have enjoyed few books more thoroughly than Tony Judt’s Thinking the Twentieth Century. I even took notes, in hope that at least a few of the brilliant one-liners it contains would sink in. As I followed the conversational argument taking place between Judt and fellow-historian Timothy Snyder, it struck me that the lightning shots being delivered by both interlocutors—they’re hardly adversaries—represent historical thinking at its best. No more with the million-dollar studies proving that healthy people tend to be happier than sick people, or that drinking pop isn’t all that good for you.

 I was reminded all over again that the richest field of thought is historical thought, and that historical thought is not only a fact-finding enterprise, but also an act of judgment and evaluation.

Reading Judt’s final work also reinforced my feeling that some of the best thinkers are mavericks who don’t find it necessary to mince words in order to assuage their academic colleagues. Yes, Judt taught at several universities, but his personal story—which he also tells in the course of these dialogues—doesn’t really follow a conventional academic path.

I’d describe the meat of the book in greater detail, but you can read all about it here, in the Rain Taxi review that just came out.