Tag Archives: Tony Judt

Public intellectuals, trains and automobiles: Tony Judt’s post-war world

It soon becomes clear from reading any number of Tony Judt’s history books that he has a deep fascination with trains. Postwar, his highly acclaimed history of contemporary Europe, opens in a train station in Vienna. The Austrian capital was traditionally the gateway between eastern and western Europe, with its central position and imperial concerns further east. In post-war Europe, the city’s two separate train stations – one with routes heading east, and the other with trains travelling west, but never between the two worlds – became, in Judt’s mind – the ultimate symbol of the tragic and artificial divisions of the Cold War world. A history of railways was also planned until Judt became terminally ill with motor neuron disease. It is one of the many topics that he returns to in his posthumous new book, The Memory Chalet. He was a strange child, so fascinated by trains that he spent whole school holidays riding them alone across London and the south of England. Later, as he tells us, he discovered Europe from the window of a train carriage. Trains seem to mean two things to Judt; they represent the possibility of boundless travel across the European continent, while remaining connected to the landscape in a way that simply isn’t possibly with air travel. However the great European railways and the grandiose nineteenth-century station buildings are also physical reminders of the great undertaking of public service that Europe’s rail system represents. Continue reading

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Around Europe by train and several books

Paris, 1896, and a small crowd sit expectantly, excitedly in a darkened room. A large, heavy steam train pulls in to a bustling platform and the select, seated audience becomes increasingly panicked, convinced the train is headed straight for them. One of the earliest films shown by the Lumière brothers, at a time when the public was only beginning to understand the new medium of motion pictures, Arrival of a train at La Ciotat station captured the excitement that two new forms of technology brought to the nineteenth century imagination; those of cinema and trains. Continue reading

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Tony Judt: A passionate historian remembered

We think we have learned from enough from the past to know many of the old answers don’t work and that may be true. But what the past can help us to understand is the perennial complexity of the questions. (Tony Judt, Reappraisals)

Historian of twentieth century Europe Tony Judt, who died last Friday, will be remembered as one of the most sane, wise and passionate voices of twentieth century intellectual life. Professor of European history at New York University and historian of the twentieth century, his influence extended far beyond the reaches of academe. Continue reading

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