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Review: History of the Present by Timothy Garton Ash 
17th-Feb-2010 09:39 pm
talent, pencil
History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s by Timothy Garton Ash

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well-written and well-observed journalism from Central/Eastern Europe in the 1990s, with a particular focus on Germany, Poland, and the Balkans. The pieces in this collection are roughly contemporaneous with the events they describe, so it's interesting to see how Ash's thinking evolved, and where he got things right and got things wrong. (I found it interesting, for example, that Ash predicted that the eventual fall of Milosevic in Serbia and the achievement of independence for Kosovo would be more traumatic and violent than they eventually ended up being. I would love to see an essay where Ash tries to figure out why things actually went more smoothly than he'd anticipated. It's possible that Ash has written such an essay - he still writes frequently on Central/Eastern Europe for the New York Review of Books, among other places.)

I sometimes felt a little out of my depth in reading this book. My knowledge of Eastern European history in the decade of 1989-1999 was formed from a somewhat confused jumble of CNN footage, photos from Paris Match, and the odd New York Times article. My knowledge of Eastern European under communism derives almost solely from reading of Tony Judt's Post-War. Ash is the sort of writer who might casually toss in a reference to "Hungary 1956" or "General Jaruzelski" and expect you to know what he's talking about. He's a clear enough writer that you get the gist of what he's saying in any case, but I think I might enjoy reading and thinking about the essays in this book again after I've read more widely about Eastern Europe.

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