ISBN is

978-0-300-08700-0 / 9780300087000

Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century

by

Publisher:Yale University Press

Edition:Hardcover

Language:English

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About the book:

An ominously dark cover reflects the mood for this sobering and intermittently brilliant appraisal of 20th-century morality or, to be fatuous, of men behaving very badly. Jonathan Glover, author of Causing Death and Saving Lives, argues that the 20th century has been less punctuated than characterised by atrocities because of rampant technology and the disappearance of an external moral force to guide people. Interweaving readable narrative with skilful analysis, Glover considers the major human disasters of the period, from the regimes of Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot to its defining events. The two world wars, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, Rwanda and Yugoslavia receive painstaking autopsies, culminating in an appraisal of Nazi Germany, which, though it slaughtered fewer people than Stalin's Soviet Union, and proportionately fewer than PolPot's Khmer Rouge, was unique in its ruthless use of the instrument of government to enforce its evil.

Glover's approach to history is based on anecdotal and eyewitness accounts, refreshingly clear of statistical marshland, and while he does not shy from unequivocal condemnation, he shows wise restraint in a volume that could as easily have been entitled "Hindsight." Physical distance from battle leading to emotional detachment, distillation of Social Darwinism, "positive hatred", brutalising removal of dignity to render the victim no more than an animal, "cold jokes", lack of individual responsibility and the cult of tribalism are all identified as having contributed to a spirit of partisan malevolence to which, for Glover, the phrase "never again" is the only adequate ethical response. "Where were the philosophers?" runs the refrain of his battle-cry. Watching inactive and inadequate, like most of the rest of us, is the depressingly recurrent reply. The darkness is not unremitting; it is consciously entitled Humanity, and Glover is an optimist, albeit with grave concerns, who strives to highlight individual acts of kindness that transcend circumstance to offer hope for the future. After 10 years of research and writing, he has produced a stirringly intelligent and urgent lament for an arduous century, pockmarked by those who sought to dominate it, and unable to forget as selectively as it remembers. -- David Vincent

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