(K. Brent Tomer),
1946: The Making of the Modern World. By Victor Sebestyen. Pantheon; 438 pages; $30. Macmillan; 456 pages; £25.
IT WOULD be hard to imagine a more depressing moment than the first year after the end of the second world war. The guns had mostly fallen silent, but millions were still dying from famine, disease or civil strife. Large areas of Europe and Asia lay in ruins. Vast numbers of refugees were on the move. Many people wondered how their economies could ever be revived.
Britain was, in effect, broke; Berlin’s water supply was still polluted by corpses. Japan, an island nation vitally dependent on trade, had lost 80% of its merchant marine. The Marshall Plan, which would use funds provided by America to coax European industries back to life, lay in the future. As Victor Sebestyen points out in his new book, “1946”, optimists were in short supply. “Very few people at the end of 1946 believed that recovery was around the corner, or even that it was possible,” he writes.
The main change that year was the start of the cold war. As Mr Sebestyen argues, it was a Soviet-sponsored coup in an obscure corner…Continue reading