Review

History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches From Europe in the 1990s

by Timothy Garton Ash



A collection of 30 pieces written by a leading authority on
contemporary Europe, HISTORY OF THE PRESENT is a winning blend of
excellent journalism and insightful contemporary history. Instead
of a European history written by detached scholars using secondary
sources, Ash argues passionately for the importance of history
written by "someone who was there" and who witnessed events with
their own eyes. Ash has spent much of his life in Europe,
monitoring and reporting on important developments, such as the
fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the
reunification of Germany, and the "Velvet Revolution" in
Czechoslovakia. He writes about all of these events and more, from
a firsthand perspective, in HISTORY OF THE PRESENT.

Ash contends that Europe in the 1990s was both integrating and
splitting apart at the same time. The old Cold War certainties of
East against West, communist versus capitalist, have ceased to
exist --- replaced by new uncertainties. The European Union,
anchored by France and Germany, is increasingly important as a
continental and global actor, and the main question for the EU is
one of setting priorities. Ash contends that the EU has chosen
monetary union over eastward expansion.

Meanwhile, new nations are being created out of nations such as the
former Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. These new
nations, often born out of ethnic strife, have caused tensions that
that have engulfed the whole region. The crisis in the wake of the
disintegration of Yugoslavia is a case in point. Despite
predictions of its irrelevance in a post-communist Europe, the
United States is now more involved in Europe than ever. The war in
Kosovo proved the ongoing importance of American military power on
the continent, while America's cultural and economic influence has
never been greater.

Ash repeatedly emphasizes that Europe, especially Central and
Eastern Europe, is in transition. One of the major questions Ash
asks is "How should these nations in transition treat their
troubled pasts?" Should East Germany, for example, put members of
its former ruling communist party on trial or ban them from holding
future offices in the post-communist state? Would it be better for
post-communist nations if they simply forgot about their pasts and
"moved on" to the future. Germany, especially, has closely examined
its Nazi and communist past. Poland has not.

This book will certainly satisfy anyone wishing to better
understand contemporary Europe. Ash is a fine writer and an
incisive witness to history; his pieces are vivid and illuminating.
He visits former East German leader Erich Honecker in prison. He
speaks about meeting "The Polish Pope," John Paul II, and being
impressed by the power of the man. Ash calls the Pope "[s]imply the
greatest world leader of our time." Ash also gives us memorable
portraits of Germany's Helmut Kohl, another of the world's most
important leaders, and controversial Serbian leader Slobodan
Milosevic. HISTORY OF THE PRESENT is a must-read for those wanting
to get an insider's perspective of Europe in the 1990s.

Reviewed by Chuck Leddy on April 11, 2011

History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches From Europe in the 1990s
by Timothy Garton Ash

  • Publication Date: September 11, 2001
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction, Politics
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0375727620
  • ISBN-13: 9780375727627