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Louis Untermeyer


Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties

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.

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