Although he could play piano in only one key--F-sharp--and never learned to read music, or to transcribe it, Irving Berlin published some eight hundred songs, dozens of them part of the enduring body of Broadway lore. Berlin was born in Russia in 1888, four years before his family emigrated to America and settled in New York City. His teenage years were spent working as a busker and singing waiter in the flamboyantly disreputable Bowery bars. Berlin published his first song in 1911. A prolific combination of genius and schmaltz, he would go on to compose some of the most popular songs--"White Christmas," "Easter Parade," "God Bless America"--and stage and screen musicals--There's No Business Like Show Business, Top Hat, Annie Get Your Gun--the stifling darkness of oppression, the greed of the ruling classes. For the world's elite, the near-universal adoption of capitalism today reveals history as a narrative of unbroken progress.
Avoiding conventional chronological accounts, The Twentieth Century is organized around the major themes of the last hundred years. To help us understand our recent past and probable future, Clive Ponting offers a "world systems" theory: A few core states have dominated much of the rest of the world, which provides raw materials and cheap labor, and remains tied to the core as virtual colonial territory. Between these extremes are Latin America, the Middle East, and eastern Asia, whose people have only a limited shot at self-determination as economic, social, and political differences between the core and periphery continue to grow.
The book's central theme revolves around the struggle between progress and barbarism; the hope for our future is that "our conscience will catch up with our reason." On the eve of the millennium this vivid history of the century is a must-read.