The 20th century began slowly, to the ticking of grandfather clocks and the stately rhythms of progress. Thanks to science, industry and moral philosophy, mankind's steps had at last been guided up the right path. The century of steam was about to give way to the century of oil and electricity. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, only 41 years old in 1900, proposed a scientific basis for the notion that progress was gradual but inevitable, determined by natural law.
And everybody thought that the development would continue in the small steps that had marked the progress of the 19th century. Inventions like the railroad or the telegraph or the typewriter had enabled people to get on with their ordinary lives a little more conveniently. No one could have guessed then that, in the century just beginning, new ideas would burst upon the world with a force and frequency that would turn this stately march of progress into a long distance, free-for-all sprint. Thrust into this race, the children of the 20th century would witness more change in their daily existence and environment than anyone else who had ever walked the planet.
This high-velocity attack of new ideas and technologies seemed to ratify older dreams of a perfectible life on earth, of an existence in which the shocks of nature had been tamed. But the unleashing of unparalleled progress was also accompanied by something quite different: a massive regression toward savagery. If technology endowed humans with Promethean aspirations and powers, it also gave them the means to exterminate one another. Assassinations in Sarajevo in 1914 lit a spark that set off an unprecedented explosion of destruction and death. The Great War did more than devastate a generation of Europeans. It set the tone - the political, moral and intellectual temper - for much that followed.
Before long the Great War received a new name - World War I. The roaring 1920s and the Depression years of the 1930s proved to be merely a prelude to World War II. Largely hidden during that war was an awful truth that called into question progress and the notion of human nature itself.
But civilization was not crushed by the two great wars, and the ruins provided the stimulus to build a way of life again. To a degree previously unheard of and perhaps unimaginable, the citizens of the 20th century felt free to reinvent themselves. In that task they were assisted by two profound developments - psychoanalysis and the Bomb.
stately - величественный, величавый
thrust - толчок
high-velocity - большая скорость
savagery - варварство
aspiration - стремление
exterminate - уничтожать
assassination - убийство политического или общественного деятеля
spark - искра
explosion - взрыв
destruction - разрушение, уничтожение
devastate - опустошить
roaring - бурный
Depression - кризис 1929-32 гг.
1. How did the 20th century begin?
2. What guided mankind's steps up the right path?
3. What did Charles Darwin's theory of evolution propose?
4. What did everybody think of progress?
5. What had inventions like the railroad, telegraph and type writer enabled people to do?
6. What was unthinkable for people?
7. What was the unparalleled progress accompanied by?
8. Why did the Great War receive a new name?
9. What proved to be merely a prelude to World War II?
10. How did civilization develop after the two great wars?