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A Thread of Years

PDF Lukas is best known for being a historian, having written nearly twenty books on twentieth century history, so this hybrid is a departure.Hybrid because it's neither quite history orfiction, but a blend of the two.Lukacs makes it clear in the introduction that he has no interest in writing historical fiction which is free to invent characters and situations and link themto actual events.History, on the other hand, is more closely tethered to facts with opinions that may be expressed.

What Lukacs has done is to writeshort impressionistic sketches or vignettesof each year from 1900 to l969, the point at which he feels the 20th century made a definitive shift .Historical facts might be mentioned in passing, but are completely missing in some years.After the sketch which always involves people going about their everyday lives, along with some commentary,there is a dialogue between the author and a usually skepticalreader who most of the time questions whether this approach has worked or not.Lukacs is modest and admits that perhaps his approach often doesn't work.

As a reader, I think the approach is very uneven.Some years work will in giving you a sense of how individuals were reacting to larger events.In l912, for example, when enthusiasm forTeddy Roosevelt's reforms were waning,a disillusionment began to set in with a one-time liberal becoming conservative and muttering that "something is wrong with the progressive movement - human nature will not change."At the same time, though, an enormous cultural change was underway with the rise of the movie industry in southern California.

In 1924 a rich couple tour Italyin a new andsportily-designed Itralian roadster. Misolini was coming to power, and innovation and hope were in the air for a country that was finallygoing to regain some of its ancient Roman glory.The irony that the reader brings to this "springtime" is well evoked.

1945 Lucas sees as a turning point of the 20th century, andhe mentions thesuicide of many Germans, including Hitler, who despaired at the end of the Third Reich.At the same time, though, a large German emigre'colony in sunnysouthernCalifornia were enjoying the beginnings of the rise of the American Empire, helped along in no small degree by the film industry.

A question arises of why Lukacs stops his "thread of years" in l969 when the century is only two thirds completed.Originally, he had intended to stop in the 90's after the fall of the Berlin Wall in l989. His skeptical reader reminds him that he still has over 20 years to go.Lukacs' reply in the voice of the narrator (it's never quite clear whether the narrator and Lukacs are the same, although there's no reason to think otherwise), is the the 60's marked the end ofthe value of Anglo-American values.He's referring, not to the hippies and the youth movement, but to the "erosion of beliefs andof institutions and of manners and morals and habits than can no longer be restored."

What do all of those generalizations refer to?Lukacs writes at the beginning that he is really trying to depict the decline of the ideal of the "gentleman", the individual who has been blessed with power and influence and has used it in a responsible way.He no longer exists, and if you read all of these 69 vignettes, Lukacs hopes you will see that he has made his case.An interesting attempt, but I'm not convinced that the ideal of the "gentleman"ever existed as Lukacs depicts it.His" skeptical reader" character would agree (and I would agree with him), arguing that Lukacs is indulging in nostalgia for a idealized past.

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