It is a wide-ranging dialogue with Timothy Snyder, you can buy it here. I will gladly recommend this book, but I have mixed feelings about it. It is Judt’s “deathbed conversations” with Snyder, when he was paralyzed.
Is it fascinating? Yes. Did I read it straight through without pausing? Yes. Did I learn a lot? Yes.
Yet it doesn’t show Judt in such an overwhelmingly favorable light. He is cranky, unfair to his intellectual opponents, and he repeatedly misrepresents thinkers such as Hayek on some fairly simple points. He conducts unsubstantiated attacks on various New York Times columnists, as if they had once beaten him in a debate and this was his revenge. It shows his lifelong and mostly unhealthy obsession with what Daniel Klein has called “The People’s Romance.” Unlike in some of his previous writings, his proposals for a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine problem come off as an irresponsible and somewhat flip symbolic gesture, easy enough to make because he doesn’t have to live with the outcome. As a reader and reviewer it is hard to not wonder whether/how Judt was medicated during these conversations, and how well he had thought through his lack of editing options before publication. Or is this the real Judt? Are we all really like this? Pondering that question is as interesting as the dialogue itself.
The Austrians will be happy when Judt writes: “The three quarters of century that followed Austria’s collapse in the 1930s can be seen as a duel between Keynes and Hayek.” Yet he has the odd view that free market ideas were “imported to the U.S. in the suitcases of a handful of disabused Viennese intellectuals.” Others may underrate the importance of central/eastern Europe but in these dialogues he overrates it.
One does not have to agree with Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to find this an unfair characterization:
Hayek is quite explicit on this count: if you begin with welfare policies of any sort — directing individuals, taxing for social ends, engineering the outcomes of market relationships — you will end up with Hitler.
My favorite part of the book comes at Kindle location 1294, here is part of that discussion:
But even when Blunt was outed as a Soviet spy, in 1979, his standing in high society, and in the distinctive codes of that society in England, still protected him…Thus Blunt — a spy, a communist, a dissembler, a liar and a man who may have actively contributed to the exposure and death of British agents — was nonetheless deemed by some of the his colleagues to be guilty of no crime serious enough to justify depriving him of the fellowship of the British Academy.
If you are seeking to “normalize” this review, I consider Judt’s Past Imperfect to be one of the best books of the last few decades, his Postwar to be one of my favorite books ever, and his late essays to be some of the best writing, in any genre, in a long time. (Though I didn’t like Ill Fares the Land.) I can recommend this too, as something worth consuming and pondering and spending money on, but I still have a slightly queasy feeling in my stomach.