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Reviewed by:
  • International History of the Twentieth Century by Antony Best, Jussi M. Hanhimäki, Joseph A. Maiolo, and Kirsten E. Schulze
  • Christine Skwiot
International History of the Twentieth Century By Antony Best, Jussi M. Hanhimäki, Joseph A. Maiolo, Kirsten E. Schulze. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.

On the back cover of International History of the Twentieth Century, Routledge markets this textbook as a “major new global history of the twentieth century” aimed at “students taking courses in world history.” There is truth in advertising: especially in the past decade, growing numbers of diplomatic and international historians have sought to re-integrate their field back into a historical mainstream from which they became increasingly marginalized as social history and subaltern, cultural, and colonial and postcolonial studies gained ascendance and the writing and teaching of world history proliferated. This one-volume synthetic textbook both succeeds and fails in its goal to provide undergraduate students with the tools needed to understand, analyze, and interpret international relations in history of the twentieth-century world.

Antony Best, Jussi M. Hanhimäki, Joseph A. Maiolo, Kirsten E. Schulze, all prominent professors of international history, began this book when they taught at the London School of Economics. They have produced an often remarkable, wide-ranging synthesis of the rise and decline of European global hegemony, the rise of the Soviet Union and the United States to world superpower status, the nuclear arms race and the global proliferation of states that possess nuclear capabilities. The text analyzes the century’s major global and regional conflicts around the world and the emergence of independent states in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. This broad range of topics is linked by an examination of the relationships between efforts to impose and/or quests to pursue modernization and modernity and the proliferation of ideological and national models of economic and political development. Indeed, one of the book’s major strengths is its treatment of the diversity of ideological and national innovations produced by engagements with modernization, ranging from various forms of rejection to a host of projects to “perfect” modernity.

A strong pedagogical backbone makes this text valuable for undergraduate instruction. Twenty-three maps clearly depict how colonial conquest and independence movements and wars and other forms of conflict and state-sponsored violence shaped and reshaped the world over the course of the twentieth century. A thirteen-page glossary explains key names and terms (presented in bold-face in the text), providing students an indispensable reference tool. Brief primary documents excerpts convey some of the ideological flavor and fervor of the times, but they are few in number. Each chapter contains a “debates and controversies” section that summarizes key historiographical debates, with varying degrees of success. Moreover, the authors structure their text by chronology, area, and major regional and global trends before, during, and after World War II.

This structure works effectively to introduce students to the histories and historiographical debates of a host of area studies, the relations between dominant powers, and their relations with the colonies and nations of different regions. At its best, the narrative skillfully unpacks and specifies the relationships among local, national, and global political movements and ideologies, most compellingly in the chapter on the rise of political Islam. Especially for students in the United States, many of whom, like that nation’s foreign-policy makers, discern a direct relationship between al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups and their political projects, this chapter demonstrates that “the vast majority of Islamist groups continue to function in a very specific local context with very specific aims, under a leadership for whom engagement and compromise are possible.” (441)

Best, Hanhimäki, Maiolo, and Schulze clearly state the pedagogical and methodological approaches they adopted—and those they did not. They elected to focus “the international politics and the ideological doctrines of the last century” in order to provide “history, international relations, and politics undergraduates” with “a solid foundation in international politics,” a choice they acknowledge, “may strike some as old-fashioned, especially as the historical discipline now considers the ways in which cultural, gender, social, economic, and scientific factors…have influenced international affairs.” While the “core of...

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