Friday, 26 August 2011

The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century

In this long and astonishing narrative, British journalist Watson presents an unconventional history of the 20th century, which, he argues, "has been dominated by a coming to terms with science." Although this massive volume is packed with a multitude of events, ideas, and influential people, Watson's infectious writing carries the reader swiftly along. The mosaic he creates can best be illustrated by this typical sentence: "On 25 October 1900, only days after Max Planck sent his crucial equations on a postcard to Heinrich Rubens, Pablo Picasso stepped off the Barcelona train at the Gare d'Orsay in Paris." In 42 chapters, Watson travels from Freud to the Internet, from pragmatism and relativity to Brave New World and Hiroshima, while considering the impact of the arts, existentialism, feminism, sexuality, genetics, medicine, the Great Society, race, AIDS, and more. Key people and ideas are highlighted. It is hard to spot any major omissions, though post-World War II music seems to get overlooked. While this work is reminiscent of Paul Johnson's Modern Times, Watson's scope goes far beyond politics and history. This book will be read and consulted for many years.

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