Compressed history as sharp and provocative as it is short.
Though the matter-of-fact title might suggest a primer or student guide, renowned historian Lukacs (The Future of History, 2012, etc.) demonstrates the argumentative power of the simple declarative sentence. “The twentieth century was—An? The?—American century,” he writes. It “meant the end of the European age” and was “a short century, seventy-five years, from 1914-1989.” True to that last declaration, Lukacs begins with the start of World War I and closes with the belated end of the Cold War, consistently contending that the Soviet Union was overrated as a threat to the United States and American primacy. Some will take issue with how much this history focuses on Europe in general and the two world wars in particular; it gives comparatively short shrift to the Holocaust, the atomic bombing of Japan, the emergence of the Third World and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s. Yet the author has a solid point of view and requires readers to come to terms with it, whether they agree or not. Where other histories focus on larger economic, cultural and political forces, Lukacs stresses the crucial roles played by individuals, “the historical importance of national leaders.” If someone like Hoover rather than FDR had been president in 1940, he claims, “Hitler would have won the war.” He writes convincingly about the confusion of communism with anti-Americanism and how, in the United States, conservative “meant to be fixedly and rigidly anti-Communist,” sardonically noting that “many of the now self-proclaimed American conservatives were not really very conservative at all.” He furthermore asserts that the advancement of “the equality of human people...is God’s design.”
A masterpiece of concision and a marvel of clear, controlled prose, a quality lacking in much academic writing.