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A HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY by Martin Gilbert

A HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Vol. III, 1951-1999

By Martin Gilbert

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-688-10066-X
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A thoroughly unsatisfactory conclusion to Sir Martin’s ambitious but flawed history of the 20th century. One problem lies in the haste with which the book was assembled. Sir Martin, the eminent biographer of Sir Winston Churchill and author of more than 50 books, notes that he handed the typescript for the previous volume to his publisher in July 1998. It is easy to calculate that he must then have had to research (or at least absorb the research of associates), write, and bring to publication a 990-page tome in just over a year. His haste shows. Though Gilbert concentrates on the Cold War, he has missed much important research; in dealing with the Cuban missile crisis, he makes no mention, for example, of the secret Kennedy agreement to remove US missiles from Turkey. The entire question of the complicity of the Kennedy administration in the murder of Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem is dismissed with the phrase that the blame “was laid by many onlookers at the feet of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.— Gilbert correctly notes that “few revolutions in the twentieth century were so total, so dramatic and so globally significant as the fall and destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991,— yet he gives the event a one-sentence explanation. In this context some of his conclusions are baffling: that the Soviet Union “was not far behind the United States in scientific developments, and in some respects was ahead.” In a particularly vapid —Retrospect,— he notes that “mass murder features in another aspect of the twentieth century— but gives no explanation for that horrendous development; instead he presents apologies by the British government for the execution of 300 soldiers for cowardice in WWI. Sir Martin’s gifts have always been those of a narrative historian, yet he has failed in this volume to provide an adequate understanding of the events he describes.