Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomskyby Paul Johnson
A fascinating portrait of the minds that have shaped the modern world. In an intriguing series of case studies, Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Kenneth Tynan, and Noam Chomsky, among others, are revealed as
A fascinating portrait of the minds that have shaped the modern world. In an intriguing series of case studies, Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Kenneth Tynan, and Noam Chomsky, among others, are revealed as intellectuals both brilliant and contradictory, magnetic and dangerous.
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Meet the Author
Paul Johnson is a historian whose work ranges over the millennia and the whole gamut of human activities. He regularly writes book reviews for several UK magazines and newspapers, such as the Literary Review and The Spectator, and he lectures around the world. He lives in London, England.
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Paul Johnson begins his trilogy ("Intellectuals", "Creators", "Heroes") with an excellent survey of some of world's most renowned intellectuals. The pleasure lies not just in the informative survey, but in the exacting analysis of each intellectual's ideas, whether the individual adhered to his espoused principles within his own life, and the veracity of each thesis as born out by time and trial. Johnson's style is highly readable: a balanced blend of edification and enjoyment.
This book shed a lot of light on the character and actions of men who are considered leading intellectuals. I read it during an introductory course I took on Russian literature I found that not only did Leo Tolstoy, but several communist thinkers write as if they were dedicated to a case for brotherhood and morality, but could not (and did not want to) apply their philosophies to their own lives. There is a lot to be questioned about the ideas that seep from hypocrites. Self-noblizing talk of sacrificing personal property and will for the greater good can guilt some people for their success and acheivements, their sacrifice of time and energy towards production and contribution. Only those who succumb to this guilt will be controlled by the self-serving ideas of those who really just don't want to produce and contribute to society and humanity in a real way. There is merit in criticizing the actions of those who are known for thinking.
The wonderful thing I loved about this book was how it quite elegantly and quietly criticized not only hypocritical intellectualism (a sadly common occurence) but the evolution of communist thought. But it did both more with a light sense of humor than with out-right dogma. From someone who (as a classical musician, conductor, language enthusiast and Christian) has spent years having to listen to self-interested, in-bred intellectual circles criticize this and that institution or another without any real thought into what they're doing or saying ('They love expressing brilliant opinions that they've over-heard...' Gene Kelley, 'American in Paris') this book gave me nourishment and hope that such bald and frightenning contradiction will not go un-noticed by all. 'Logical Fiddle-sticks' could have been an equally apt title for the work.
I enjoyed very much these essays on the influential writers of the recent past. Especially, the Romantics who were the foundation and also the foil for the Moderns. I think the background and the conditions these writers lived under gives great insight to the motivation of plot formation as well as the essence of the characters. It's interesting that Edmund Wilson was included because you can see similarities with his essays in 'The Wound and The Bow'. I'm sorry that this book was limited to artists of the written word. I think an essay on Picasso or Beethoven would have been consistent with the theme of men who changed public thought and attitudes with the force of their vision.
Paul Johnson does to the radical intelligentsia what Lytton Strachey did to "Eminent Victorians." His disdain for the sexual and economic exploitation (of women, of the working people) by the Heroes of the Left unleashed makes very funny reading.
If one loves to gossip about the personal lives of others, this is the book for you. Nowhere in the book is there anything 'intellectual', as the title would seem to suggest. The author reaches back into history, not to contribute anything new, but to do what has come to curry favor with those who are more interested in the personal lives of others rather than what were their ideas. If one is interested in learning something worthwhile, he/she will be sorely disappointed.