Philobiblon: The real 20th century

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The real 20th century

Definitely the best of my holiday reading was Richard Vinen's A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century, which attempts to tell an even account of the history of the entire continent, not, as is traditional in most western European historiography, one focused on Britain/France/Germany, which produces an inevitable emphasis on the two "world" wars (in which for example Spain did not take part).
While the issue of "European refugees" is usually seen as a WWII and post-war problem, he points out:

There were 9.5 million refugees in Europe in 1926. One and a half million people were forcibly exchanged between Greece and Turkey; 280,000 were exchanged between Greece and Bulgaria; 2 million Poles were uprooted from their homes, as were 2 million Russians and Ukranians, 250,000 Hungarians and 1 million Germans. p.210

He has a lovely line in dry sarcasm, e.g. talking about "analysts in the 1950s" who had a view on women's tendency to vote more often for right-wing parties.
Emphasis on [women's] false consciousness is deceptive, because it implies that the male working class had a 'true consciousness' of its interests. In fact, as it turned out, the vision of the future held out by the 'press du coeur' was slightly more realistic thatn that held out by Humanite (some secretaries did marry millionaires, but no western European country experienced a proletarian revolution)." p. 380.

He also raises some interesting questions: "How does one compare the benefits of a laptop computer, which most bourgeois Europeans take for granted now, with those of a well-trained parlour maid, which most bourgeois Europeans took for granted in Keynes's day?" p. 632.


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