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Publisher's Summary

Named one of the Best Books of the Year in 1983 by the New York Times, this fast-paced, all-encompassing narrative history covers the great events, ideas, and personalities of the six decades following the end of World War I. It offers a full-scale, if controversial, analysis of how the modern age came into being and where it is heading.

Beginning with May 29, 1919, when photographs of the solar eclipse confirmed the truth of Einstein's theory of relativity, Johnson goes on to describe Freudianism, the establishment of the first Marxist state, the chaos of "Old Europe", the Arcadian 20s, and the new forces in China and Japan. Also discussed are Karl Marx, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Roosevelt, Gandhi, Castro, Kennedy, Nixon, the '29 crash, the Great Depression, Roosevelt's New Deal, and the massive conflict of World War II.

©1983 Paul Johnson (P)1988 Blackstone Audio Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Johnson's insights are often brilliant and of value in their startling freshness." (Los Angeles Times) "Frequently surprises, even startles us with new views of past events and fresh looks at the characters of the chief world movers and shakers, in politics, the military, economics, science, religion, and philosophy of six decades." (The Wall Street Journal) "Truly a distinguished work of history...Modern Times unites historical and critical consciousness. It is far from being a simple chronicle, though a vast wealth of events and personages and historical changes fill it....We can take a great deal of intellectual pleasure in this book." (The New York Times)

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The Anti-Howard Zinn

Paul Johnson is a journalist turned historian. He is an excellent writer, meaning, he writes well. Given his age and education in England, he is going to form a killer sentence. He explains his theories well and gives a great narrative flow to his take on forces of history.

This book is not for everyone. It should be read widely, but given current trends in academia, it will not be. This is the opposite of A People's History of the United States. That is going to enrage some people and please others. But it is just one more voice speaking and should be heard. His grasp of history (going back to antiquity) is astonishing and seemingly nonchalant. It is amazing what he references. This is more of a history-as-biography as opposed to ideological concepts. Johnson believes history is made by individuals. And you get them in all arenas, political, ideological, and artistic.

This is a history of the western world from the 1920s (he posits that the confirmation of Einstein's theory is the beginning of the "modern" age) through the 1990s. The book derides moral relativism, defends Nixon, hates Communism, and describes the 1960s as "America's Suicide Attempt".

But he backs his theories up with abundant facts. There are some errors in the book, which is going to happen in a book this large. I do not feel they detract from the overall thesis. It is a great companion to his "A History of the American People". (The audio, which I have, is done by Nadia May, too.) A knowledge of Latin phrases is helpful.

Johnson has opinions and is not afraid to share them. I consider this more honest than a lot of histories that I read. (Read Rick Perlstein's arrogant Nixonland, and be astonished by his inherent venom toward Nixon and the implicit belief one would agree with him.) At least Johnson is explicit. You don't have to agree with him, but he presents his argument lucidly. Modern Times is therefore not objective, but what book is? He is a very religious man and blames the 20th century's "death of God" for things like fascism, Nazism, Communism, and the every-increasing power of the state filling in the vacuum left by religion. It is a book which praises the individual and not groups. His disdain for "-isms" is because they go after races, classes, groups, but does not create wealth. Johnson is an ardent capitalist.

Modern Times is also hilarious. I am not sure whether Johnson is intentionally funny or just writes so well that you find yourself laughing when he hits the nail on the head, but I laughed a lot. (If you are new to Johnson, check out his three-hour interview on C-Span's "In Depth" first. You'll get an idea from where he comes and might find the humor I did.)

This book is by a strong writer and historian and does not invite passive reading (or listening). His statements invite you to argue back, to put the book aside and ruminate on passages and theories, to get angry, to laugh. Not a bad feat.

Here is a good example. Johnson believes Lenin is the primogeniture of the horrors of the 20th century, "'Once Lenin had abolished the idea of personal guilt, and had started to 'exterminate' (a word he frequently employed) whole classes, merely on account of occupation and parentage, there was no limit to which this deadly principle might be carried. There is no essential moral difference ... between destroying a class and destroying a race. Thus the practice of genocide was born.''

Naida May is a very competent narrator. She does have a difficult time with some foreign words and phrases, as well as some names. It can be distracting at times. I think the book is better with a female voice. I also think she gets the humor of many of the passages and hits a few punchlines. The English accent also helps.

I have this both in hard copy and as an audio book. I would argue that this is a difficult book to listen to because it so easily makes one think. Next thing you know, five minutes passed without you having listened to them. This is a book of breathtaking scholarship and insight. Enjoy.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mark
  • Aptos, CA, United States
  • 03-03-07

Relevant History

I can see why this was a bestseller when it came out. History means more to me now than when I was in high school and college. Most history books recite dry facts without insightful connections to the significant meaning behind the events. Other so called modern day history books are either so politically correct that they only focus on the sins of the Western world or are so biased to the left or the right that the reader feels manipulated and intellectually bankrupt.

This audio book is well read and is consistently interesting. I highly recommend this work.

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Damon
  • Dallas, TX, USA
  • 09-15-08

Very Interesting

I have learned so many intesting things from this book. It gives you details and color to events that you have heard of and some that you haven't. It is great framework for understanding the world that you were born into.

I have listened to about 20 books from audible this year and this is the first one that was so good that I felt compelled to tell others. I highly recommend it to anyone.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Unconventional wisdom

This is a very entertaining history, well read and well recorded. It offers a fresh look at some familiar personalities and events. You might also enjoy The Glory and the Dream by William Manchester.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Excellent book, flawed recording performance

Johnson's work is excellent. It is wide ranging, fair and understanding. (Despite an earlier reviewer's statement that this is history according to Ayn Rand and that all Republicans are praised, etc.--well, those claims are outright false. He presents fairly, without bias. It's history, not campaigning.)
The recording performance by Nadia May, however, is not so excellent. She has a particular manner of speaking, with her thick British accent, which causes her to swallow syllables repeatedly--the volume drops to inaudibility after a stressed word, or a word gets shortened to a length that makes it near impossible to hear. If the syllable is a whole word, you will lose the whole word. Sometimes it's as many as three words rushed through with a drop in volume and a clipping of the word or words, and the sense is gone. These things happen again and again in the recording, and I'm actually surprised her producer didn't notice it (unless, perhaps, he or she speaks English in the same way). Also, the bad accents for quotations---Russian, French, German, Slav (but oddly, no attempt to quote Americans with an American accent--I wonder why?)---are kind of funny. However, they do serve the purpose of letting the listener know when a quotation has begun and ended.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Joseph
  • South Bend, IN, USA
  • 01-08-07

Fun, but use with caution

This is a non-standard sweep through 20th Century intellectual and moral history from a contrarian/right-of-center point of view. It's much more interesting than most works of this scope because Johnson is very opinionated and says just what he thinks, and he does it with some panache. I don't think it he is always correct (I'd still take FDR over Calvin Cooolidge) but I was never bored. It was no doubt a messy, ugly, bloody Century, and there can't be much argument over who the true monsters were. Lots of fun, but don't let this be your only guide.

30 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Edward
  • Brooklyn, NY, USA
  • 11-12-12

The purpose of history is to inform.

Would you listen to Modern Times again? Why?

M. Times is a course of study rather than a story. It focuses deeply into the numbers and data that build conclusions so that one reading is not enough. It is a refereence that should be revisited often.

What did you like best about this story?

The author does not accept widely held beliefs. He goes out and does his own research and challenges the Zinns and Schlesengers who intimidate the main stream of modern history.

Which scene was your favorite?

There can be no primary scene in an epic but personally I like the author's contrast of production capabilities among Soviet, Axis, British and American economies during wwii.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

One is not moved by the catastrophe that was the 20th century. One is numbed by it.

Any additional comments?

The author must be a very brave man.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • J.R.
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 09-07-12

Excellent book, poor recording

Where does Modern Times rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Low in the top 30th percentile - content would be top 10% but the recording is almost unbearable.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

I think she did a fine job although as an American, her accent makes her harder to understand. However it is truly the poor recording quality that makes this a problem. I'm an audio engineer myself, so these things irritate me greatly. If this was properly processed with eq and compression especially, it would be a MUCH more enjoyable listen probably 4 star)! Also, there is background noise like voices in the adjacent room. This is also distracting. I also think that the narrator's use of French and German accents are superfluous.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No way!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Peregrine
  • Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 10-16-09

Challenging for a liberal to read

Johnson has a great sense of narrative and real moral outrage about the evils of communist and fascist totalitarianism. For this liberal it was a stunning and provocative view of history from the conservative angle.

That said, he refuses to criticize dictators who were on the US side and even excuses their crimes in a way he never excuses communists. The chapter on the Spanish Civil War is absurd, and his critiques of intellectuals and "east coast elites" are simplistic and Nixonian in their transparent resentment.

14 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Bracingly opinionated (and wrongheaded)

Paul Johnson thinks Dag Hammarskjold was a conniving sneak and Patrice Lamumba was a thug. He thinks the Great Depression would have corrected itself and that Franklin Roosevelt's interventions made it worse. He thinks Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover are vastly underrated as presidents. He thinks the Watergate scandal was a media-driven witch hunt, ignoring the fact that Richard Nixon really WAS a conniving sneak who used his office to subvert the electoral process, not to mention the judicial system.

So why bother to read him at all? Because as wrong-headed as he can be, he also writes brilliantly - and Nadia May, the narrator, sounds (as always) like she's genuinely enjoying herself. Johnson is old-fashioned in more ways than one. He writes long narrative paragraphs that seem to go on and on, and yet I would get to the end of the chapter (or the book) and realize with astonishment how much ground had been covered and how absorbed I'd been for hour after hour. The transitions within a chapter are subtle. He might start out talking about the first Polish pope and end up talking about the last Shah of Iran. Topics rise and merge and fade away in a relentless march of interconnected facts.

And some of his insights are compelling. He writes eloquently of the damage done to governments everywhere by the hordes of professional politicians. He gives a gripping analysis of the many totalitarian regimes that sprang up in the 20th century (and in many cases disappeared before century's end). He covers everything in the middle 60 years of the 20th century from the space program and the Cuban missile crisis to the rise of OPEC and the Eurodollar. His perspective is truly global.

I wouldn't take him as the final word on anything. But he's written a good introduction to many of the pressing issues and conflicts of the previous century. Just keep in mind that given two possible explanations for an event, he's always going to choose the one most consistent with his conservative viewpoint; and that when he wrote the book, the Soviet Union was still a living, breathing entity.

15 of 24 people found this review helpful