A few days ago, Mary Fulbrook’s Reckonings, Jill Lepore’s These Truths, and Julia Lovell’s Maoism: A Global History were announced as the finalists for the Cundill History Prize.
Administered by McGill University in Montreal and awarded by a distinguished jury, the Cundill History Prize honors the abiding passion for history of its founder, F. Peter Cundill, by encouraging informed public debate through the wider dissemination of history writing to new audiences around the world.
These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore
Widely hailed for its “sweeping, sobering account of the American past” (New York Times Book Review), Jill Lepore’s one-volume history of America places truth itself—a devotion to facts, proof, and evidence—at the center of the nation’s history. The American experiment rests on three ideas—”these truths,” Jefferson called them—political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. But has the nation, and democracy itself, delivered on that promise?
These Truths tells this uniquely American story, beginning in 1492, asking whether the course of events over more than five centuries has proven the nation’s truths, or belied them. To answer that question, Lepore wrestles with the state of American politics, the legacy of slavery, the persistence of inequality, and the nature of technological change. “A nation born in contradiction… will fight, forever, over the meaning of its history,” Lepore writes, but engaging in that struggle by studying the past is part of the work of citizenship. With These Truths, Lepore has produced a book that will shape our view of American history for decades to come.
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Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice by Mary Fulbrook
A single word–“Auschwitz”–is sometimes used to encapsulate the totality of persecution and suffering involved in what we call the Holocaust. Yet focusing on a single concentration camp, however horrific the scale of crimes committed there, leaves an incomplete story, truncates a complex history and obscures the continuing legacies of Nazi crimes.
Mary Fulbrook’s encompassing book explores the lives of individuals across a full spectrum of suffering and guilt, each one capturing one small part of the greater story. Using “reckoning” in the widest possible sense to evoke how the consequences of violence have expanded almost infinitely through time, from early brutality through programs to euthanize the sick and infirm in the 1930s to the full functioning of the death camps in the early 1940s, and across the post-war decades of selective confrontation with perpetrators and ever-expanding commemoration of victims, Fulbrook exposes the disjuncture between official myths about “dealing with the past” and the extent to which the vast majority of Nazi perpetrators evaded responsibility. In the successor states to the Third Reich — East Germany, West Germany, and Austria — prosecution varied widely. Communist East Germany pursued Nazi criminals and handed down severe sentences; West Germany, caught between facing up to the past and seeking to draw a line under it, tended toward selective justice and reintegration of former Nazis; and Austria made nearly no reckoning at all until the mid-1980s, when news broke about Austrian presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim’s past. The continuing battle with the legacies of Nazism in the private sphere was often at odds with public remembrance and memorials.
Following the various phases of trials and testimonies, from those immediately after the war to those that stretched into the decades following, Reckonings illuminates shifting public attitudes toward both perpetrators and survivors, and recalibrates anew the scales of justice.
Maoism: A Global History by Julia Lovell
Since the heyday of Mao Zedong, there has never been a more crucial time to understand Maosim. Although to Western eyes it seems that China has long abandoned the utopian turmoil of Maoism in favor of authoritarian capitalism, Mao and his ideas remain central to the People’ Republic and the legitimacy of its communist government. As disagreements and conflicts between China and the West are likely to mount, the need to understand the political legacy of Mao will only become more urgent. Yet during Mao’s lifetime and beyond, the power and appeal of Maoism has always extended beyond China.
Across the globe, Maoism was a crucial motor of the Cold War: it shaped the course of the Vietnam War (and the international youth rebellion it triggered) and brought to power the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; it aided, and sometimes handed victory to, anti-colonial resistance movements in Africa; it inspired terrorism in Germany and Italy, and wars and insurgencies in Peru, India and Nepal, some of which are still with us today – more than forty years after the death of Mao.
In this new history, acclaimed historian Julia Lovell reevaluates Maoism, analyzing both China’s engagement with the movement and its legacy on a global canvas. It’s a story that takes us from the tea plantations of north India to the sierras of the Andes, from Paris’s 5th Arrondissement to the fields of Tanzania, from the rice paddies of Cambodia to the terraces of Brixton. Starting from the movement’s birth in northwest China in the 1930s and unfolding right up to its present-day violent rebirth, this is the definitive history of global Maoism.