By Paul Johnson
Perennial Library, 817 pages, 1983
If it seems like forever since I've
posted a book review (the last one was the boring Lost
Boys, over a month ago), it's because I've been slogging through
this dense, long, but absolutely wonderful book of modern history.
Paul Johnson is a great writer and
incisive historian. He doesn't merely tell you what happened. He
analyzes events, explains why they occurred, and even, at times, what
may have happened otherwise.
His books do take some effort to get
through. Long sentences, long paragraphs, long chapters - all with
no breaks. Most books now are divided into two to three page segments,
for easier and quicker reading, but this book defied that trend. But the
reward is worth the struggle. Believe me, if you want to learn about
most of the 20th century, this is your book.
Johnson begins this weighty tome just
after World War I. He discusses the perilous political situations in
Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia, all of which led to various forms of
murderous, totalitarian governments, which in turn destabilized the
world. He covers Hitler and Mussolini's rise to power, and goes in depth
with Lenin and the bloodthirsty Bolsheviks, later called Communists.
Vladimir Lenin was a hateful, violent,
evil man. He holds the dubious distinction of introducing the concept of
genocide to the 20th century. Soon after he seized power, he ordered all
sorts of classes of people murdered, simply because of the place they
held in society. And they weren't all wealthy landowners, but peasants
and workers, as well. Hitler looked to Lenin as a political model on how
to wield power and demand obedience. It's a disgrace that the Russians,
to this day, display Lenin's mummified corpse in public as if he were
some kind of hero.
Joseph Stalin, Lenin's successor, was
even worse. A paranoid monster of a man, he ordered the deaths of
millions of Russians, peasants and comrades alike, to further the
communist dream. He hated Jews as much as Hitler did. He betrayed
friends and foes alike. A raging imperialist, he held several nations
captive behind his Iron Curtain.
Unfortunately, murderous tyrants
claiming power was the overall theme of the 20th century. Dictators
appeared all over Asia and Africa after World War II. The trend did
reverse itself a bit in the 80s and finally the 90s, with the collapse
of the Soviet Union, but big government is still with us today.
Johnson discusses much more than this,
of course, but it is far beyond the scope of this humble review. If you
like to read, if you love history, you must read this. At the very
least, it will help you understand the world a bit better.