The End of (a) History

“There is significance in the end of things,” a young man, hinting at a wisdom beyond his years, once told me.  For that reason alone, A Short History of the Twentieth Century, the latest book by John Lukacs, would be significant.  For this is not just his most recent book but, as he announced in these pages in August 2013, almost certainly his last.  Yet beyond the significance of summing up a career that has been remarkably prolific and productive (two words that are often used as synonyms but which have very different meanings), A Short History of the Twentieth Century stands on its own as an important work—Lukacs’s most original in recent years, and one that sows certain seeds that a future generation of historians could cultivate and harvest to great profit, should they choose to do so.  (Whether they will is by no means certain.)

On January 31, America’s greatest living historian will celebrate his 90th birthday.  At one point in A Short History, Lukacs refers to “those coincidences that statisticians hate but some historians love.”  For those who have followed his work, it is hard not to see certain significance in the milestones of his life.  Born halfway between the start of World War I and the accession of Hitler, Lukacs came to the United States in 1946, just as the United States became the...

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