The twentieth century began in an age of horse-drawn travel, and before it ended mankind was routinely journeying by air and had taken photographs on the surface of Mars. It was a century of vast human and ecological destruction, but also one of national exuberance, cultural diversity, and phenomenal scientific progress.
Martin Gilbert's three-volume history of the twentieth century begins with a masterful narrative covering the critical thirty-three years which began this remarkable span of time: from the dawn of aviation through a great war that left six million soldiers dead and four vast empires destroyed, to the inauguration of Roosevelt as U.S. President and Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, and the beginning of Stalin's show trials in the Soviet Union. Moving with ease from continent to continent, conveying the years of struggle, upheaval and achievement on every front, the author also tells the stories of ordinary men and women who were integral parts of the events which sometimes benefited them, and often victimized them. Here begins the definitive chronicle of our century, by one of the foremost historians our century has produced.
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Martin Gilbert is Winston Churchill's biographer and the author of eight acclaimed books on the Holocaust. He lives in London.From Kirkus Reviews:
After writing more than 50 books, the eminent British historian, knighted in 1995, could be excused for feeling tired, and this first volume of his history of the 20th century shows it. One of the problems is that he has chosen to cover the period year by year, with the result that, like a butterfly, he alights briefly on one country before winging his way to the next. This tends to interrupt the flow of the narrative and the development of any themes. The only exception is where he describes the First World War, on which he has already written much, and where the inherent drama of the events imposes its own theme. Another problem lies in a lack of freshness in the writing: ``the ever-changing, ever-renewing drama on the world stage. . . . Everywhere mankind strove, and continues to strive for that better tomorrow.'' A further problem, most unexpected in a historian of Gilbert's accomplishment, is his use of sources. For example, although he describes it as a ``patriotic volume published annually,'' he quotes Cassell's Illustrated History of England at length and almost uncritically: ``Never was there a touch of nature that made the whole world more kin than the death of her Majesty the Queen of England.'' The First World War dominates the period, occupying a quarter of the book, but Gilbert gives little indication of why statesmen, with few exceptions (Churchill in England, Count Tisza in Austria-Hungary), were so blind to its potential consequences and why the peoples of Europe greeted the declaration of war with such enthusiasm. The good bits tend to suggest ``Trivial Pursuits'': In 1906, for example, Coca-Cola replaced the cocaine in its drink with caffeine, and Lindbergh's achievements finally convinced the American people that the airplane was safe. Churchill, whose biographer Gilbert is, would have called this volume a ``themeless pudding.'' (24 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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