On Political Books

March/April 2012 Thinking Out Loud

An oral history of the twentieth century, dictated on his deathbed, shows that Tony Judt was, to the end, the consummate public intellectual.

By Michael O'Donnell

The title Thinking the Twentieth Century comes from a comment Judt made in passing during his running conversation with Snyder. What made Orwell and Koestler so special, he argued, was their ability to identify in real time the absurd and grotesque events of the century for which there was no precedent, rather than insisting that those events were unthinkable. The rise of fascism, the Holocaust, and the long march of Soviet communism needed first and foremost to be described: they were the trees. Orwell and Koestler had the consummate historian’s skill to say what had happened—to “think the twentieth century.” In giving this title to Judt’s final book, Snyder implies that Judt too had that rare gift. He is right. Without thinkers like him we are lost in the forest.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, we have included a link for your convenience.

Michael O'Donnell , a frequent contributor to the Washington Monthly, is a lawyer living in Chicago with his family.


  • school grants on July 26, 2012 4:58 AM:

    The best alternative, as he saw it, was social democracy in the European style. An enthusiastic proponent of the welfare state, school grants
    Judt portrayed the economies of western Europe as different from American market capitalism not merely in degree but in kind