Just as a cookie could kill a starving death camp inmate whose system couldn’t handle it, so restoring normality after the insanity of world war was a tricky business. In his global survey of the devastation of 1945, Year Zero (Penguin Press, $29.95), Ian Buruma describes an almost unimaginably complex situation. The old world was in ruins, and this included both the physical infrastructure of cities and industries and the “invisible ruins” of cultures and even of civilization itself. Then there were the millions of displaced persons, the famines, epidemics, and combustible mix of festering bitterness and ready weapons. Buruma, sensitive to the wide sweep of political exigencies as well as to their very real effect on individual lives, starts with his father’s experience as a slave laborer in Germany, then chronicles survival stories of civilians and soldiers from throughout Europe and Asia. Tracking a Liberation Complex, he charts the initial “exultation,” the uses and abuses of fraternization, the complexities of repatriation, and the unwillingness of the formerly powerless—women, colonial subjects—to relinquish new-found independence. The goal, as Buruma shows with great insight and humanity, wasn’t to reassemble pre-war conditions, but to create a world that wouldn’t fall prey to its own destructive tendencies.

Year Zero: A History of 1945 Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594204364
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Penguin Press - September 26th, 2013

Year Zero: A History of 1945 Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594204364
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Penguin Press - September 26th, 2013

 

In order to publish The Myth of Sisyphus in occupied France, Camus had to comply with Nazi censors and cut his chapter on Kafka. This is one of many startling details—Camus, after all, considered revolt “the first value of the human race”—in Sean B. Carroll’s fact-filled Brave Genius (Crown, $28), a study of resistance in wartime France and Cold War Europe. A self-described “lifelong World War II history buff,” Carroll is also a noted molecular biologist, as is one of the two heroes he profiles, Nobel laureate Jacques Monod. While Monod didn’t meet Camus until after the war, the two held similar beliefs and both struggled tirelessly against the Nazis. For both men, the resistance informed their later work and shaped their philosophies; resistance didn’t end when the Germans left France. Rather, it shifted from being a cause worth dying for to being a way of making life worth living and a world worth living in. Carroll elegantly intertwines questions of ultimate meaning with Camus’s idea of the absurd and Monod’s research in genetics that revealed life as a product of chance and necessity, not the design of a higher cosmic order.

Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307952332
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Crown Publishing Group (NY) - September 24th, 2013

Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307952349
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Broadway Books - September 23rd, 2014