100 Years of News, With Gaps

The Century By Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster (Doubleday, 1998, 605 pages, $60)

The Century is a fascinating and lavishly illustrated account of the events of the last 100 years. This sizable book has had a deservedly high place on the best seller list for several months. It was produced as a companion to the television series of the same name on ABC and The History Channel.

So much is here that it's impossible to list it all: immigration to the States, the two World Wars, the Depression, the introduction of radio and TV, the Mafia, Nazism, Communism, the struggle for civil rights, and so much more.

Rather than a thorough history of the 20th century, however, this is an account of the events that had particular influence on the people of the United States. Thus, Nazi Germany, World War II Japan, and Communist Russia receive a great deal of attention because they were our protagonists during much of these years.

The book has one major flaw: It overlooks the role of religion — except for the fundamentalist (Scopes trial on evolution), revivalist (Billy Sunday), radical Islamic (Ayatollah Khomeini), and cultic (Jonestown mass suicide), all of which receive significant attention. Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II, and Mother Teresa receive one sentence each. Vatican Council II is not mentioned at all.

A second flaw arises in the reporting of the struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death — in the areas of abortion, biotechnology (e.g., in vitro fertilization), assisted suicide, and euthanasia. Jennings and Brewster are by no means anti-life and they attempt to fairly give both sides of the story. However, the reader is not left with a very profound understanding of the sacrifices so many people make for the principle of life.

On two other topics, the authors' approach is not balanced. The advance of feminism and the cause of homosexual rights are given treatments that, while not blatantly unfair, tend to favor these trends. A more adequate treatment is needed, one that would show the dignity of the human person and of the family.

In sum, the reader who can fill in the gaps on some key issues will find The Century to be an engaging and valuable retelling of many of the important events that influenced Americans of the 20th century.

Gerry Rauch is an Assistant Editor of the Register.