When the Facts Change, Essays By Tony Judt

Sandbrook_02_15Dominic Sandbrook at Literary Review:

The real pleasure of this book, though, comes from Judt's evisceration of other historians. He was a quite brilliant bad reviewer. Some of his targets seem a little too easy: among the pieces here is a full-blooded assault on Vesna Goldsworthy's bookInventing Ruritania, a sub-Edward Said account of the Western 'invention' of the Balkans, in which 'everything is imagined, represented, constructed, Orientalized'. But what was refreshing about Judt is that he was not afraid to go out big game hunting. The very first essay in the book, for example, is a supremely perceptive review of Eric Hobsbawm's book The Age of Extremes, absurdly overpraised in many circles. Judt rightly acknowledges Hobsbawm's strengths: the sweep of his narrative, the accessibility of his prose. But he shows very clearly how Hobsbawm, as an unrepentant Marxist, fudged and distorted the history of the early Cold War and failed to deal properly with the terror of Stalin's regime, which he implicitly supported for so long.

The book's most blistering essay, though, is an extraordinary review of Norman Davies's bestseller Europe: A History. Indeed, I am not sure I have ever read a long review that is quite so damning. Europe is not just 'littered with embarrassing and egregious errors', says Judt, 'it is a truly unsavoury book'. In one unforgettable aside, he develops an elaborate comparison between Professor Davies and Mr Toad, united by their 'unself-conscious immodesty'.

more here.