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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 - Tony Judt Ok, this is a history book.
So let's introduce it with a fact: Tony Judt made it.

Who else would have been able to condensate sixty years of European history in 831 pages finding room enough to spend a whole paragraph on the likes of the football/soccer star David Beckham? ("an English player of moderate technical gifts but an unsurpassed talent for self-promotion" etc.).

And yet this book may be called huge, grand, impressive but not great. I would say that just like his compatriot Beckham, Judt got an unsurpassed talent for self-promotion but moderate technical gifts.
Am I too harsh? Perhaps. But please let's stick to facts.

First of all, "Postwar" would have needed a better editor. We all know how even the best player in the world is going nowhere without a good coach helping him in moderating his juvenile excesses, forcing mistakes and occasional selfishness. Regretfully enough, Tony Judt has not found here either his Alex Ferguson or his Red Auerbach.

You cannot publish a history book with such ambitious aims unchecking foreign terms and thus leaving behind so many reiterated typos. I will mention a few. Those of you who have a better knowledge of, say, German, Czech or Polish would surely find many others.
The Italian Communist Party was called Partito Comunista Italiano and not "Communista" (with two Ms) as "Postwar" shows around fifteen times.
While talking about Italian neorealism (not always apropos) I found puzzling how Judt decided to translate some titles ("Paisan" rather than "Paisà") and not others ("Sciuscià" rather than "Shoeshine") once referring in the same page to the same movie with two different titles "Roma città aperta" and "Open City".
Well, how many non-Italians of you know that "città aperta" means "open city"? Why not using a marginal note, I wonder?

But it seems like marginal notes are used pretty much randomly by Judt. Let's make another example of this unexplainable freedom of choice:
While quoting the famous John F.Kennedy sentence "Ich bin ein Berliner" Judt juxtaposes a "(sic)" at the end of the quote suggesting in that way how Kennedy made a mistake. Yeah, but which one?
For those who are not familiar with German the explanation is that JFK should have said "Ich bin Berliner". By saying "ein Berliner" the American president called himself a doughnut, a krapfen or whatever. And yet Judt forgot to make it clear with a simple marginal note.
For the whole book Judt uses marginal notes without any logic. Sometimes he cites, say, Primo Levi or Arthur Koestler and puts a note down the page for telling the reader the reason why he did or from which book/article he took the quote while other times he reports accounts or books without any marginal note.
Once again, why?

Now let's talk about math. It's notorious how historians (and journalists) have no talent with numbers. That's exactly where a good editor should intervene by double-checking their figures. But Judt's coach was clearly not brilliant in math too. Any proofs? Have a look at the chapter named "The Age of Affluence". At some point Judt states that "at the beginning of the 1950s there were only 89,000 private cars (not counting taxis) in Spain: one for every 314,000 persons".
Wow! Had Francisco Franco known that Spain had twentyseven billions nine hundred fortysix millions inhabitants by that time he would have certainly tried to draw more ambitious plans, even with the few cars Spaniards owned. Please, guys, check the numbers when you read this tome!

Ok, I don't want to keep going at Mr Judt any further.
"Postwar" is huge, grand, impressive and will teach you many things over Europe that you didn't know, but perhaps using the term "masterpiece" for this brick of a book is a bit inappropriate.
Still, three stars are well deserved: I reread "Postwar" pretty often. And not for finding its mistakes.