I know it’s only February but if Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century by John Higgs doesn’t make my top ten books of the year, I’ll be very surprised.
It’s an excellent speedy romp through the major ideas of the 20th century with the overarching thesis that it was a time when everything we thought we knew radically shifted and the stability of certainty was lost. As we enter another era where even the uncertain certainties of the 20th century seem to be falling away, this feels like a particularly important book.
This is a very accessible read and Higgs explains even quite complex ideas in an understandable and remarkably concise way. The only chapter I struggled with was the physics one but honestly, that wasn’t a surprise to me as I’ve never ‘got’ it. Overall his writing is snappy, clear and witty and he certainly isn’t to blame for my lifelong struggle with physics!
He covers so much that it’s obviously impossible to really dig down into single ideas but that’s not the point of the book. If you want to really understand say, Einstein, this isn’t the book for you but if you’re intrigued by joining the dots that connect Freud to Einstein to teenagers and rock n’ roll, then I think you’ll enjoy it.
Also, the Postmodernism chapter made me absolutely howl with laughter while in the bath, which is an obvious plus.
Very highly recommended.
PS. Full disclosure, my husband Ian Cat Vincent knows John Higgs & I’ve spoken to him briefly on Twitter about the book but I haven’t met him & neither of these things affected my review. Also, I’m not getting a kickback for this, I just think it’s a good book and you should all read it.