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The distinguished historian John Lukacs has been described as "one of the most powerful as well as one of the most learned minds [of the] century" by Conor Cruise O'Brien and as "one of the most original and profound of contemporary thinkers" by Paul Fussell. Here Lukacs presents a series of fictionalized vignettes of daily life as experienced by ordinary individuals in the United States (although Lukacs takes us to some European countries as well), each in a year from 1901 to 1969, and each followed by a short dialogue in which the author argues with an interlocutor (who may or may not be himself) over why he has chosen to develop a given scenario in that particular year and what its significance might be. The period represents the life of a single man, K., which Lukacs weaves in and out of the text and through which can be traced the leitmotif of the book: the decline of Anglo-American civilization and of the ideal of the gentleman. The book is primarily a work in the history of manners and mores, a delightful-and poignant-succession of sketches that brings the reader into the inner and often undeclared life of individuals and places them in the larger dramas of historical process in this century.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780300080759
ISBN-10: 0300080751
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 155mm x 32mm)
Pages: 486
Imprint: Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publish Date: 21-Dec-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

UK Kirkus Review » This is a slightly eccentric book by a distinguished American to present a portrait of the century in 60 short essays - one for every year between 1901 and 1969. These are set in a number of different locations - London, New York, Moscow, Philadelphia - and each is followed by speculation and rumination about the events it chronicles. Lukas attempts to be both novelist and essayist, and comes very near indeed to bringing off a true tour de force. Lukas has a true historian's sense of the part played in history, not only by world-shaking events, but by smaller incidents and shifts of international emotion and intent. A thought-provoking, readable book, and one which merits the reputation and awards it has won.A slightly eccentric book, presenting a portrait of the century in 60 short essays - one for every year between 1901 and 1969. These are set in a number of different locations - London, New York, Moscow, Philadelphia - and each is followed by speculation and rumination about the events it chronicles. Lukas attempts to be both novelist and essayist, and comes very near indeed to bringing off a true tour de force. For English readers the inevitable American tone can be slightly irritating, but in many ways the book is a great success - partly because of Lukas' beautifully toned style and partly because of a true historian's sense of the part played in history not only by world-shaking events but by smaller incidents and shifts of international emotion and intent. A thought-provoking, readable book, which merits the reputation and awards it has won. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » In a series of 69 brief "vignettes," which portray events in the life and milieu of a fictitious individual from Philadelphia, prolific historian Lukacs (The Hitler of History, 1997, etc.) seeks to portray the decline of the once-regnant Anglo-American civilization and "the ideal of the gentleman." The author's intended effect is to evoke interest in real historical problems and issues. The actual effect, however, is rather wearisome - especially since the author insists on giving the reader, at the conclusion of each vignette, an imaginary dialogue between himself and a friend discussing the historic importance of the sketch just concluded. The story Lukacs tells, covering the years from 1901 through 1969, is a familiar one: He sketches the gradual absorption of the influential Anglo-Saxon minority into an increasingly polyglot, multicultural, and turbulent America; the gradual decline of self-confidence of the old Anglo-American culture; and its replacement with a society more egalitarian but more materialist and relativist, and less deferential and ordered. Lukacs explains that this hybrid work has no plot, but rather is a "thread" within the larger "ribbon" of American culture: a "ribbon" he describes in an afterword as a skein of reactive events commencing with the conclusion of WW II and resulting in decadence and decline by the end of the 1960s. Lukacs appears to view the "American Century" as a long descent into barbarism, and he ends, cryptically, with the year 1969, by which time, he argues, "the great cities of America were shivering and deteriorating and when the urban and urbane bourgeois period of American history had come to its end." He ends by arguing that the ideal of Anglo-American civilization "lived on in the gardens of America and in the minds of ever more scattered, but perhaps still numerous, men and women." Lukacs has given us some exotic ruminations that are not quite history, not quite fiction, together with many debatable observations, amounting in all to an often tedious literary exercise. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - John R. Lukacs

John Lukacs was professor of history at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, until his recent retirement and has been visiting professor at many universities. He is the author of twenty books, among them Confessions of an Original Sinner, The Duel, The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and the most recent, The Hitler of History. He is the recipient of numerous academic honors and awards.

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