"The Opposite of Communism is Europe"

This is a fascinating book that I'm glad that I read but that I'm also glad is over.

Judt sets out to explain how Europe went from being a continent made up of many countries to, well, the European Union. His central thesis is that the utter devastation of the two World Wars left Europe so hobbled and its citizenry so shell-shocked that the only way progress could occur was with strong direction from the government. In the case of Western Europe, that meant the "Welfare State" served up in various forms in different countries, and in Eastern Europe it meant a degree of acceptance of the communist regimes put in place by Stalin. Judt ends with the Soviet Union gone, Eastern Europe clamoring to get into the EU and Western Europe struggling to figure out just what it means to be European.

That probably doesn't sound like a scintillating read. I won't lie. This is isn't a page turner over all but parts of it do have the sweep and drive of great popular history. Other parts read like a text book. Judt loves facts and figures. Given the choice between telling you that coal production in Belgium fell 45% in ten years or telling you exactly what coal production was in 1960 and 1970, he'll always go with the later. Still, I haven't come across any other book which attempts to do what Judt does and while he does have his opinions, he's far from doctrinaire. Judt isn't a fan of Maggie Thatcher, Francoise Mitterand or Boutros Boutros-Ghali - which is quite a gamut.

Judt takes on a few sacred cows as well, for instance he explains the events of Paris 1968 in a way that is less heroic and more about squatters' rights. He doesn't shy away from Europe's less appealing actions either - like enforced sterilization through until the mid-1970s. What emerges is a full picture of a continent trying to assembly itself into a community.

If you want to know how the shambles of postwar Europe became the Europe of today, this is the place to start. It's especially notable for it's insistence on seeing Europe independent of the United States and for giving equal time to the Eastern European experience. Recommended for those interested in 20th Century history.

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