Hope and Memory

Hope and Memory : Lessons from the Twentieth Century

3.95 (110 ratings by Goodreads)
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Both a political history and a moral critique of the twentieth century, this is a personal and impassioned book from one of Europe's most outstanding intellectuals. Identifying totalitarianism as the major innovation of the twentieth century, Tzvetan Todorov examines the struggle between this system and democracy and its effects on human life and consciousness. Totalitarianism managed to impose itself because, more than any other political system, it played on people's need for the absolute: it fed their hope to endow life with meaning by taking part in the construction of a paradise on earth. As a result, millions of people lost their lives in the name of a higher good. While democracy eventually won the struggle against totalitarianism in much of the world, democracy itself is not immune to the pitfall of do-goodery: moral correctness at home and atomic or "humanitarian" bombs abroad. Todorov explores the history of the past century not only by analyzing its spectacular political conflicts but also by offering moving profiles of several individuals who, at great personal cost, resisted the strictures of the communist and Nazi regimes.
Some--Margarete Buber-Neumann, David Rousset, Primo Levi, and Germaine Tillion--were deported to concentration camps. Others--Vasily Grossman and Romain Gary--fought courageously in World War II. All became exemplary witnesses who described with great lucidity and humanity what they had endured. This book preserves the memory of the past as we move into the twenty-first century--arguing eloquently that we must place the past at the service of a just future.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 368 pages
  • 165.1 x 231.14 x 30.48mm | 657.71g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 0691096589
  • 9780691096582

Review quote

"Hope and Memory is a powerful and moving meditation... There are some brilliant and moving anecdotes in the book, dramatizing the general theme, which is one of hostility to the kind of black-and-white thinking beloved of tyrants and ranters."--Tom Garvin, Irish Times (Dublin) "The structural nature of evil, the human propensity for it, and it's relationship to ideas of the good, is Tzvetan Todorov's subject in this meditation on totalitarianism and democracy in the 20th century... Totalitarianism, he argues, was the great innovation of the 20th century because it played so successfully to people's need for the absolute... Todorov explores this in comparing the Soviet and Nazi systems and in examining the intellectual and legal conflicts between communists and their critics in postwar France and the continuing argument between right and left over which kind of excesses are most culpable."--Martin Woollacott, Guardian Saturday Review "A sense of moral outrage informs Todorov's [work]... War does more harm than good, he believes, not matter what the announced intentions of the warmakers may be."--Modris Eksteins, First Things "[Todorov's] judgements seem dignified, sober and sensible... It's the way [his] reflections condense into a moral vision, combined with occasionally intimate and above all first-hand accounts of totalitarian politics in which the book abounds."--Carl Joakin Gagnon, Toronto Globe and Mail
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Back cover copy

"Almost alone among contemporary critics, Tzvetan Todorov has chosen to apply his prodigious talents to the literature of twentieth-century totalitarianism. His unique gift is his ability to elucidate the memoirs and writings of some of the century's greatest survivors, not merely discovering their literary qualities but also finding in their works moral and political lessons relevant to us all."--Anne Applebaum

"This is a very rich book, full of interesting--and often highly controversial--conversation as well as moving portraits of striking figures of the century that has just passed. It is addressed to a general public very much engaged in discussing what the twentieth century was all about and where we are going from here."--Charles Taylor
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About Tzvetan Todorov

Tzvetan Todorov is Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and the author of many books, most recently "Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of Humanism" and "The Fragility of Goodness" (both Princeton).
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Table of contents

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms vii Preface to the English Edition ix Prologue: the last hundred years 1 Chapter 1: What Went Wrong in the Twentieth Century 5 Our Liberal Democracies 5 The Ideal Type of Totalitarianism 14 Scientism and Humanism 19 The Birth of Totalitarian Doctrine 26 War As the Truth of Life 32 The Two-Edged Knife 40 The Achievement of Vasily Grossman 48 Chapter 2: Two of a Kind 74 Peas in a Pod 74 Apples and Oranges 82 The Reckoning 91 The Achievement of Margarete Buber-Neumann 93 Chapter 3: Preserving the Past 113 The Control of Memory 113 The Three Stages 119 Testimony, History, and Commemoration 129 Moral Judgment 134 Master Narratives 142 The Achievement of David Rousset 148 Chapter 4: The Uses of Memory 159 The Frying Pan and the Fire 159 Serving Purposes 164 What Memory Is For 168 The Achievement of Primo Levi 177 Chapter 5: The Past in the Present 187 "Moral Correctness" 187 History and Myth 197 History and the Law 205 The Achievement of Romain Gary 213 Chapter 6: The Perils of Democracy 228 The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombs 228 Kosovo: The Political Context 237 Military Intervention 251 Humanitarian Action and the Law 265 The Right to Interfere versus the Obligation to Aid 274 The Achievement of Germaine Tillion 291 epilogue: the next hundred years 311 Bibliography 319 Index 327
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Rating details

110 ratings
3.95 out of 5 stars
5 35% (39)
4 36% (40)
3 19% (21)
2 6% (7)
1 3% (3)
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