Tony Judt (1948–2010) was the author or editor of fifteen books, including The Memory Chalet and Postwar, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He was the director and founder of the Remarque Institute and a professor at New York University. Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of five award-winning books, most recently Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.
In 2012 Heather Horn of The Atlantic talked to Snyder about his collaboration with Judt, Thinking the Twentieth Century:
The book resembles, in some sense, a guided tour through personal mental library. Is this what you mean when you say in the introduction that "this book makes a case for conversation but perhaps an even stronger case for reading"?Read about Timothy Snyder's five top books on dissent in Central Europe.
One of the very special things about Tony was the sovereign command he exercised over facts and arguments. He was really just as good, if not better, in person than he was on the printed page. And part of that, of course, was that he just had a very special mind. But part of it was that he was immensely well-read in a very old-fashioned way.
Neither of us was reaching for books or Googling anything as we proceeded. You have to remember that Tony was paralyzed and that we were working alone, just the two of us together. We were just talking. And that was only possible because there were all these layers of reference that were in his mind and in mine. I guess what I was trying to get across in that introduction is that a lot of solitary reading makes direct conversation possible. Because there's this world of letters that you wander around in alone for a long time. But then, when you meet someone else who has been doing even more of that wandering, you have an awful lot to talk about.
The other thing that I was trying to get across, gently and implicitly, is that reading books and not doing anything else forces you to learn to concentrate. What Tony did in this and his other final projects required heroic acts of concentration that wouldn't have been possible without his lifetime habit of concentration over books. In the world of Internet--where everybody has to Google everything all the time, where we're unsure about our own memories, where we revisit fragments and where we write based on fragments--well, if that world had conquered everyone, then this book would have been...[read on]