We have entered an age of forgetting. Our world, we insist, is unprecedented, wholly new. The past has nothing to teach us. Drawing provocative connections between a dazzling range of subjects, from Jewish intellectuals and the challenge of evil in the recent European past to the interpretation of the Cold War and the displacement of history by heritage, the late historian Tony Judt takes us beyond what we think we know of the past to explain how we came to know it, showing how much of our history has been sacrificed in the triumph of myth-making over understanding and denial over memory. Reappraisals offers a much-needed road map back to the historical sense we urgently need.
Historian and political commentator Judt warns against the temptation to look back upon the twentieth century as an age of political extremes, of tragic mistakes and wrongheaded choices; an age of delusion from which we have now, thankfully, emerged. In this collection of 24 previously printed essays (nearly all from the New York Review of Books and the New Republic), Judt, whose recent book Postwar was a Pulitzer finalist, pleads with readers to remember that the past never completely disappears and that the coming century is as fraught with dangers as the last. Buttressing his argument, Judt draws upon an impressively broad array of subjects. He begins by describing the eclipse of intellectuals as a public force (for instance, the steep decline in Arthur Koestler's reputation) before reminding his audience of the immense power of ideas by discussing the now inexplicable attractions of Marxism in the 20th century. In the book's penultimate section, Judt examines the rise of the state in the politics and economics of Western nations before finally tackling the United States, its foreign policy and the fate of liberalism. As a fascinating exploration of the world we have recently lost for good or bad, or both this collection, despite its lack of new content, cannot be bested.