Uniting Critical and Historical Consciousness in a Single Space
Paul Johnson’s undertaking in writing Modern Times is no easy feat. Think about it, consolidating the history (since the First World War) of all major countries and every continent into a single, coherent book must have been a colossal task. And Johnson managed to pull it off remarkably well.
Exploring the Highs and Lows – and Making Sense Out of It All
Hitting every highlight and hotspot, this unusual take on the history of the 20th century makes for compulsive reading. It deals with the rise of Hitler, the Russian Revolution, the Kuomintang in China, the crash of the stock exchange, the Great Depression, the Weimar Republic, and of course World War II (not in that order). The book runs right through to the 1980s and leaves readers feeling both entertained and informed. It depicts the 20th century as a time when the pressures of war and the ideology of contemporary intellectuals began fueling a tide of state power. As some nations embraced collectivism, the West fell prey to the relativism of the totalitarian regimes.
A Sensible Narrative
The book makes sense out of times that may have been confusing, even to those who lived through them. After all, the public does not always get a clear picture of what is really happening as it is happening. He addresses the reasons behind the importance of the rule of law and the way war and revolution go hand-in -hand. While the accuracy of Johnson’s take on historic events may be arguable, his approach and the conclusions he draws are quite interesting.
A Fresh Take on Old Topics
Johnson is most interested in illustrating provocative modern-day conclusions derived from historical facts. Unlike many other historians, he does try to remain objective. He clearly and deliberately takes a stand, making a variety of compelling arguments in favor of moral absolutes, the absence of government interference, and the free market. With so many historic events freshly examined, the conclusions he reaches may be startling to some and even rejected outright. Nevertheless, Johnson’s assessments expand perspectives and nudge the reader to challenge traditional academic historians.
Johnson’s writing is witty and believable and gives the reader much food for thought. It may not be light read, but it’s a good one.