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Reflections on a Ravaged Century

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company • 2001 • 336 pages

More than anyone except Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest is the man who exposed the horrors of communism. Conquest, in fact, began his work before anyone in the free world had ever heard of Solzhenitsyn. In this book he draws on the insights of his long and great career to give us a grand synthesis of our century as seen through its rogue and brutally savage ideologies.

How and why did these “disastrous mental distortions” arise? Can they be prevented in the future? A deft fusion of literature and history, philosophy and prediction, here’s the wisdom of the man Paul Johnson calls “our greatest living modern historian.” Thanks to giants like Conquest, even the liberals are seeing the light. Ten years ago, would you have expected Kirkus Reviews to give this book a positive review? Yet they do so for the parts that deal with the Soviet Union and communism. In other areas, they remain (predictably) unconverted. But even there they give conservatives more reasons to listen to Conquest.

Excerpts: “A stimulating analysis of the role ideology has played in shaping our murderous century…. In the first part, entitled ‘Mindslaughter,’ [Conquest] concentrates on his specialty, the Soviet Union. The fallacies of Marxism and Communism are exposed in all their weakness. Conquest demonstrates the inconsistencies of the Marxian utopian vision, contrasting it with the grotesque violence the idealists Lenin and Stalin visited upon their own people in the name of building Socialism…. However, the Sovietologist stretches credulity in Part Two, entitled ‘Facing the Consequences.’ He advocates for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, mocks as folly the concept of a ‘United States of Europe,’ and denigrates the modest achievements of the U.N…. The ideological polemic, which asserts that British colonialism was not all that imperialistic, and that . . . the Soviets were intent on the West’s destruction, mars what is otherwise a perceptive and informative set of essays.”

“Robert Conquest tells us that he has resisted what George Orwell called ‘the lure of the profound.’ But he does not resist the lure of the wise and the true. We have no better analyst of the ideologies of totalitarianism and utopianism — totalitarian, often, because utopian — that have infested this ‘ravaged century.’ Conquest brings all his literary skill, wit, and learning to elucidate the most grotesque events of our time — perhaps of all time.”—Gertrude Himmelfarb

“Robert Conquest casts a cold eye on the turbulent end of the millennium, and suggests a way — an association of English-speaking nations — by which the new one may get off to a better start.”–Richard Brookhiser

“I can’t help feeling that all those Western businessmen who recently flew to Peking to toast the fiftieth anniversary of the Communist regime … would have been wise to pack a copy of Conquest in their luggage.”–Robert Harris, National Review

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