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World War II may have ended in 1945, but according to historian Tony Judt, the conflict's epilogue lasted for nearly the rest of the century. Calling 1945-1989 "an interim age," Judt examines what happened on each side of the Iron Curtain, with the West nervously inching forward while the East endured the "peace of the prison yard" until the fall of Communism in 1989 signaled their chance to progress. Though he proposes no grand, overarching theory of the postwar period, Judt's massive work covers the broad strokes as well as the fine details of the years 1945 to 2005. No one book (even at nearly a thousand pages) could fully encompass this complex period, but Postwar comes close, and is impressive for its scope, synthesis, clarity, and narrative cohesion.
Judt treats the entire continent as a whole, providing equal coverage of social changes, economic forces, and cultural shifts in western and eastern Europe. He offers a county-by-county analysis of how each Eastern nation shed Communism and traces the rise of the European Union, looking at what it represents both economically and ideologically. Along with the dealings between European nations, he also covers Europe's conflicted relationship with the United States, which learned much different lessons from World War II than did Europe. In particular, he studies the success of the Marshall Plan and the way the West both appreciated and resented the help, for acceptance of it reminded them of their diminished place in the world. No impartial observer, Judt offers his judgments and opinions throughout the book in an attempt to instruct as well as inform. If a moral lesson is to come from World War II, Judt writes, "then it will have to be taught afresh with each passing generation. 'European Union' may be an answer to history, but it can never be a substitute." This book would be an excellent place to start that lesson. --Shawn Carkonen [via]