Modern Times by Paul Johnson

“Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties” by Paul Johnson is a sweeping historical narrative that offers a comprehensive examination of the major political, cultural, and economic events of the 20th century. The work, which spans from the end of World War I to the early 1990s, represents Johnson’s conservative perspective on modern history, critiquing the ideologies and movements that shaped the century.

Johnson contends that much of the 20th century was marked by a departure from moral absolutes and an embrace of moral relativism. He ties this shift to the upheavals of the century, from totalitarian regimes to the nuclear age. The book offers a broad scope, covering events globally, though with a pronounced focus on the West.


  1. Breadth of Coverage: “Modern Times” offers an ambitious scope, providing readers with a single-volume history of the 20th century. The range of topics covered, from politics and wars to art and culture, makes it a comprehensive guide.
  2. Engaging Narrative: Johnson is an adept storyteller, weaving together historical events into a cohesive narrative that remains engaging throughout.
  3. Unique Perspective: Johnson’s conservative stance offers an alternative to many left-leaning historical analyses. His critiques of communism, socialism, and moral relativism provide fresh insights for readers accustomed to mainstream historical accounts.
  4. Interconnectedness: Johnson excels at showing the interconnectedness of events and ideas, drawing lines between seemingly disparate events to craft a unified theory of the century.


  1. Subjectivity: Johnson’s clear ideological stance can sometimes overshadow the objective recounting of events. His conservative viewpoint is evident in his critiques, leading some critics to argue that he sometimes allows bias to color his interpretations.
  2. Western Focus: Despite its claim to global coverage, “Modern Times” is decidedly Western-centric. Events in Africa, Asia, and South America are often explored in the context of their relationship to Western powers rather than in their own right.
  3. Controversial Interpretations: Some of Johnson’s assertions, particularly about the causes and impacts of certain events or the motivations of historical figures, have been deemed controversial or overly simplistic.
  4. Absence of Primary Sources: The book, though well-researched, leans heavily on secondary sources, with fewer primary source materials than some academic histories.


“Modern Times” is a compelling and wide-ranging look at the 20th century, offering readers a conservative perspective on the events that shaped the modern era. While it provides a valuable alternative viewpoint, it’s essential for readers to approach the work critically, recognizing that Johnson’s narrative, like all historical accounts, is shaped by its author’s biases and beliefs. As with any historical text, it is beneficial to read “Modern Times” in conjunction with other works to achieve a balanced understanding of the period.