The best books on memory and postwar Europe

Peter J. Verovšek Author Of Memory and the Future of Europe: Rupture and Integration in the Wake of Total War
By Peter J. Verovšek

The Books I Picked & Why

Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought

By Hannah Arendt, Jerome Kohn

Book cover of Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought

Why this book?

Hannah Arendt is the most important political thinker of the post-totalitarian moment. While her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism is more well-known and became a bestseller again after the election of President Donald Trump, in this collection of essays she lays out her ideas about the way that the past helps us to locate ourselves in the present by imagining and reimagining our futures. This book was hugely influential for me during my graduate studies at Yale. Unlike so many political theorists, Arendt is also a wonderfully accessible and engaging writer.

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Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

By Tony Judt

Book cover of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Why this book?

The late Tony Judt was one of the best, most insightful, and engaging historians of postwar Europe. Unlike many other histories of this period, Postwar covers the whole continent on both sides of the iron curtain. This is a thick book, but a quick read. Judt sprinkles a lot of interesting anecdotes and asides into his narrative. He also does a great job of highlighting the political legacies of the memories of both world wars. The epilogue on “the past as a foreign country” is a wonderful introduction to the politics of memory in postwar Europe.

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The Past as Future

By Jurgen Habermas, Max Pensky

Book cover of The Past as Future

Why this book?

In addition to being postwar Germany’s most important philosopher, Habermas is also its leading public intellectual. In this volume of his “short political writings” Habermas develops his ideas on a number of concrete issues in the memory politics of postwar Europe that emerged in the early 1990s – including conservative attempts to normalize the Holocaust, the effects of German unification, and the implications of the fall of communism for the EU – in an accessible manner through a series of interviews. This format also allows him to open up the question of the status of public intellectuals and their role in the democratic public sphere, which is the subject of my current book project on Habermas as a public intellectual.

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Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

By Timothy Snyder

Book cover of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Why this book?

Timothy Snyder is perhaps the leading active historian of Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Recently, he has also become a leading public intellectual highlighting the dangers of totalitarianism at the start of the twenty-first century. Much like Judt, Snyder seeks to redirect our attention away from western European history toward the East, where most of the killings occurred during the Holocaust, and where the people were subjected to renewed occupation by communism after 1945. Unlike many historians, he is not only keenly attuned to the power of memory, but also to the importance of political theory for historical thinking and vice versa. In particular, the conclusion highlights the extent to which Arendt’s work has shaped his thinking, which dovetails nicely with the first book on this list.

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The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe

By Richard Ned Lebow, Wulf Kansteiner, Claudio Fogu

Book cover of The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe

Why this book?

Although this is my final recommendation, this book is where my interest in the topic of memory and the political, intellectual, and social development of postwar Europe began. As an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, I had the opportunity to assist my advisor, Ned Lebow, with the preparation of this volume. Following a short theoretical introduction to the paradigm of collective memory, this collection then presents chapters on the specific dynamics of the politics of remembrance in various European states written by local country specialists. This is both a great read and a great resource for further information on the dynamics of postwar memory across the continent.

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