In 1946, Victor Sebestyen creates a taut, panoramic narrative and takes us to meetings that changed the world: to Berlin in July 1945, when Truman tells Stalin that we have successfully tested the bomb; to Ye'nan, China, in January 1946, when General George Marshall tells the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong that Americans won't send troops to China, assuring that the Communists will attain power; to Delhi, India, in April 1946, when UK cabinet members tell Pandit Nehur and Mahatma Gandhi that the British will leave India within a few months, ending two centuries of British imperialism.
Drawing on new archival material and many interviews, Sebestyen analyzes these major postwar decisions and others as he discusses the economic collapse, starvation, ethnic cleansing, and displacement that followed the war. This was the year when it was decided that there would be a Jewish homeland, when Europe would be split by the Iron Curtain, when independent India would become the world's biggest democracy, and when the Chinese Communists would win a civil war that positioned them to become a great power.
©2014 Victor Sebestyen (P)2015 Tantor
"An exceptionally involving and horrifying book...grindingly awful detail." (The Spectator)
My favorite form of film is the documentary. This book, with a bigger canvas in terms of time, takes that form deeper, in its way. It lacks the visuals, of course, but the descriptions are so lucid, I forget that. It has other layers of meaning and detailed descriptions the documentaries must mostly glide over too quickly.
I was attracted in particular to this year because I'd heard such a powerful narrative from my beloved mom, of her as an earnest and hopeful 14-year old in a decent small-town Southern California, that immediately pled for a counter-narrative I knew must be out there.
And I got it. This is harrowing at times, in terms of the suffering and disorder at all scales. Some passages are heartbreaking. But the whole is infused with meaning that gives constant insight, both individually and beyond the personal scale. The political descriptions woven in and out of the individuals' experiences are pellucid. It works at all levels.
A surprise, as I had never focused on the man, was Stalin. What a strange, complex extremity within the human family and story, he occupied. All the well-known major political personalities of the time are portrayed as well, from Mao to Ben-Gurion to Nehru and Jinnah, and so on, of course Churchill and Truman (and the long shadow of FDR; the story whenever called for extends very helpfully to circumstances and back-stories before and after 1946 proper). I also found the recounting of the Japanese occupation eye-opening. But no region or story, it seems, was left out, and every last one was etched, and remains etched, in my mind. This gives a fantastic background for understanding our times, including today's politics, worldwide. It is top-notch history, and I read a lot of the stuff. This is not my mom's 1946!
I'm a lawyer and mediator. I represent businesses in disputes with their insurers and in other complex litigation. I also assist machinery companies and manufacturers (primarily international) with equipment sales, non-disclosure agreements, and business issues. I also mediate commercial disputes.
This is a really great book that contains a tremendous amount of history and analysis that helps explain the second half of the Twentieth Century and beyond. I'm a bit of an amateur history buff, particularly about World War II, but there was a lot of new information here for me.
I think this book would be particularly valuable for younger persons who did not grow up in the more immediate aftermath of World War II. As the Greatest Generation is rapidly leaving us, it is important to reflect on not only what they accomplished, but the aftermath. As is the case with the world today, the leaders in 1946 made a lot of compromises, many necessitated by the economic devastation after the war except in the U.S. (which is so vividly depicted). Many other compromises were necessary due to war fatigue in the U.S., and a desire to return to more normal times.
This book is very well written with vivid descriptions. It reads almost like a historical novel. It is well paced and just very well done.
For A book with such a simple organizing premise, it's seemed hard to follow at times. The book does paint an important picture of a seldom examined time – the transition from World War II to the Cold War. Sebastyen was great on Europe, fair on China, India and Japan but missed entirely a country that is now the sole remaining and very volatile remnant of the Cold War: Korea.
This is a remarkable addition to WWII history and something wholely unanticipated on my part. I am not new to the subject and expected simply one more tract from which to gather the occasional kernal from the inevitable blizzard of chaff. The title alone led me to expect this because it is taylor made for the light weight genre. Instead, the author presents one of the most concise, comprehensive and astute commentaries I have encountered. I count it in the first rank of must-read WWII history.
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