Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Tony Judt

Penguin 2005
A book review by Danny Yee © 2012
This is an accessible choice if you want a detailed account of how the European Union came into existence and developed. That is not the narrow focus of Tony Judt's Postwar but, as a primarily political history of Europe since the Second World War, emphasizing the broad sweep of ideas, it has that at its core, along with the rejection of communism.

The topics covered include, among many others, the legacy of the war, changes in political ideologies, cultural continuities, the social effects of increasing affluence, the role of religion, cinema and the appeal of American film, and the special place of the Holocaust in European memory. Judt's is a broad and inclusive perspective, open to understanding the attraction of the full range of ideologies and ideas and the motivations of their proponents.

There is no economic history narrowly conceived, but Judt brings out broader connections to political economy — so there's an attempt at an explanation of why the German car industry flourished while the British one didn't. Judt's Anglo-American perspective remains fairly obvious, but he really does cover the whole continent, with particularly impressive treatment of Eastern Europe. Some material feels like it was included largely in an attempt to be systematic: a potted eight page history of Portugal near the end, for example, seems a bit "tacked on", though it makes a nice mini-essay in itself.

One drawback is the lack of notes or even a bibliography, but this is a broad history, using details but not over-reliant on them, and there's nothing in it obscure or hard to verify. Postwar was also written a few years before the start of the current financial crisis, which could be seen as a weakness but is in some ways a strength. Judt's concern is not to evaluate the merits of the European Union but to present the background to its creation and expansion, and for that too much hindsight would be a hindrance.

Note: Tony Judt was a regular contributor to periodicals such as The New York Review of Books and plenty of his writing is available online, so you can check out his style and approach before undertaking eight hundred pages with Postwar.

December 2012

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%T Postwar
%S A History of Europe Since 1945
%A Judt, Tony
%I Penguin
%D 2005
%O paperback, notes, index
%G ISBN-13 9780099542032
%P 936pp