A THREAD OF YEARS by John Lukacs


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In a series of 69 brief “vignettes,” which portray events in the life and milieu of a fictitious individual from Philadelphia, prolific historian Lukacs (The Hitler of History, 1997, etc.) seeks to portray the decline of the once-regnant Anglo-American civilization and “the ideal of the gentleman.” The author’s intended effect is to evoke interest in real historical problems and issues. The actual effect, however, is rather wearisome—especially since the author insists on giving the reader, at the conclusion of each vignette, an imaginary dialogue between himself and a friend discussing the historic importance of the sketch just concluded. The story Lukacs tells, covering the years from 1901 through 1969, is a familiar one: He sketches the gradual absorption of the influential Anglo-Saxon minority into an increasingly polyglot, multicultural, and turbulent America; the gradual decline of self-confidence of the old Anglo-American culture; and its replacement with a society more egalitarian but more materialist and relativist, and less deferential and ordered. Lukacs explains that this hybrid work has no plot, but rather is a “thread” within the larger “ribbon” of American culture: a “ribbon” he describes in an afterword as a skein of reactive events commencing with the conclusion of WW II and resulting in decadence and decline by the end of the 1960s. Lukacs appears to view the “American Century” as a long descent into barbarism, and he ends, cryptically, with the year 1969, by which time, he argues, “the great cities of America were shivering and deteriorating and when the urban and urbane bourgeois period of American history had come to its end.” He ends by arguing that the ideal of Anglo-American civilization “lived on in the gardens of America and in the minds of ever more scattered, but perhaps still numerous, men and women.” Lukacs has given us some exotic ruminations that are not quite history, not quite fiction, together with many debatable observations, amounting in all to an often tedious literary exercise.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07188-4
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998


NonfictionTHE HITLER OF HISTORY by John Lukacs
by John Lukacs