Through the Past, Darkly

From The New York Times:

Book REAPPRAISALS: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century By Tony Judt.

Without going back as far as Herodotus (who gave us the word “history” from the Greek for “enquiry”), and leaving aside Caesar and Churchill, who first made history and then wrote it, or Gibbon and Macaulay, who both sat as members of Parliament, the “engaged historian” belongs to a long and often honorable tradition. It was on display 20 years ago when The New York Times carried a full-page advertisement rebuking President Reagan, “A Reaffirmation of Principle,” signed by 63 public intellectuals (for want of a less irritating name) who included such eminent historians as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Fritz Stern.

That ad is mentioned by Tony Judt in “Reappraisals,” his exhilarating new collection of essays, by way of another rebuke, this time to liberals who “acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy,” but then he is himself one of the latest adornments of that engaged tradition. A Londoner by origin and a New Yorker by adoption, Judt was educated at Cambridge, and is now a professor at New York University and director of its Remarque Institute. N.Y.U. is no ivory tower, as it turns out: in a memorable article not included here, he described looking downtown from his office window on 9/11, to see the 21st century begin.

More here.