By ANDREW DOVER
The EU is in a state of flux. The UK is leaving. The European Commission has reprimanded Poland for tarnishing the impartiality of its judicial system. Viktor Orban’s Hungary continues to slide into authoritarianism. This background makes Postwar by Tony Judt a relevant and intriguing read. This 850-page tour of Europe since the end of WWII is often challenging. Seldom are there compelling characters to hook the reader as they progress through Europe’s development. Thatcher’s background gets only a single page; De Gaulle, Gorbachev, Attlee and other significant figures are afforded not even that.
Telling a complex story is where this book excels; the chapter on the fall of the USSR under Gorbachev is a standout. Judt successfully shows how one man’s lack of coherent strategy can lead to a tectonic transition of power without a war, unparalleled in modern history. A work of such scope can touch only briefly on many significant events. Discussion of political movements, rather than individual people or parties, is less successful. Indeed, the troubles in Northern Ireland are afforded only a few pages.
Yet the epilogue is worth any reader’s attention; Judt offers a meditation on European guilt in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the brutal regime of the USSR. He discusses the impossibility of grappling fully with this systematic evil, and the evolving responses of European nations, which still differ enormously in how they deal with their history.
Postwar is unique - it tells certain stories well, but it does not make for easy bedside reading! Reading it cover to cover is not, however, the best strategy to enjoy this book. My recommendation is to read the epilogue and chapters that pique your interest.