A HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY by Martin Gilbert

A HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Vol. I: 1900-1933
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 After writing more than 50 books, the eminent British historian, knighted in 1995, could be excused for feeling tired, and this first volume of his history of the 20th century shows it. One of the problems is that he has chosen to cover the period year by year, with the result that, like a butterfly, he alights briefly on one country before winging his way to the next. This tends to interrupt the flow of the narrative and the development of any themes. The only exception is where he describes the First World War, on which he has already written much, and where the inherent drama of the events imposes its own theme. Another problem lies in a lack of freshness in the writing: ``the ever-changing, ever-renewing drama on the world stage. . . . Everywhere mankind strove, and continues to strive for that better tomorrow.'' A further problem, most unexpected in a historian of Gilbert's accomplishment, is his use of sources. For example, although he describes it as a ``patriotic volume published annually,'' he quotes Cassell's Illustrated History of England at length and almost uncritically: ``Never was there a touch of nature that made the whole world more kin than the death of her Majesty the Queen of England.'' The First World War dominates the period, occupying a quarter of the book, but Gilbert gives little indication of why statesmen, with few exceptions (Churchill in England, Count Tisza in Austria-Hungary), were so blind to its potential consequences and why the peoples of Europe greeted the declaration of war with such enthusiasm. The good bits tend to suggest ``Trivial Pursuits'': In 1906, for example, Coca-Cola replaced the cocaine in its drink with caffeine, and Lindbergh's achievements finally convinced the American people that the airplane was safe. Churchill, whose biographer Gilbert is, would have called this volume a ``themeless pudding.'' (24 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-688-10064-3
Page count: 896pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1997




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