The word “mordant” may have been invented to describe a writer such as the late Kolakowski (1927–2009), public intellectual, brilliant stylist, and prolific author. This selection of essays not only offers new translations but also spans half a century of the Polish author’s work, illustrating his distinctive voice and intellectual preoccupations. The essays in the book are organized loosely into thematic areas—socialism and other political topics; religion, God, and evil; and modernity and the past—but Kolakowski brought to his subjects a mind that sees connections. He was a philosopher engaged with political questions, fiercely anticommunist, and profoundly marked by the moral and political traumas of, first, Nazi and then Soviet-initiated Communist domination of his homeland. Kolakowski knew history and the history of his chosen discipline, philosophy, and it informed his arguments with God and everybody else, conducted in bitingly ironic fashion. He deserves greater appreciation for the inimitable way he articulated the great moral questions that haunted European intellectuals after midcentury and before postmodernism disengaged the intelligentsia. (Feb. 5)
The Wall Street Journal
“[Kolakowski] was an intellectual in the best sense of that word: a scholar of vast learning, a writer with a gift for the clear and felicitous expression of complex ideas, and a man who didn’t overestimate his own importance.... [Is God Happy?] is an excellent introduction to Kolakowski’s writing. It is a treasure for Kolakowski’s admirers, too.... The essays on communism and the left brim with arresting insights.”
“A valuable introduction to Kolakowski’s extraordinary intellectual versatility.”
The American Spectator
“A splendid collection
. Many of the essays in Is God Happy? are heroic efforts by Kolakowski to rescue crucial features of the Christian worldview.... [Kolakowski] was a beacon of light in a dark time, and even his earliest essays retain their ability to instruct and inspire.”
“The eminent Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski is best known in the English-speaking world for his critique of Marxism. Yet his work is not a museum piece. Is God Happy?, which compiles half a century of his essays (many published in English for the first time), reveals the continued relevance of his thought
Even Kolakowski’s humor and irony, then, perform a serious purpose: They attempt to capture some essential aspect of the truth without emptying it of all sense of mystery.”
The Polish American Journal
“A remarkable book.... All the essays are thought provoking
.The late Kolakowski was one of the most renowned twentieth century intellectuals and philosophers. He had written essays and books for over fifty years, some of which were banned by the Communist party. Today we now have the pleasure of reading them in English, with an excellent translation by his daughter.”
“Stimulating and provocative.”
“The word ‘mordant’ may have been invented to describe a writer such as the late Kolakowski, public intellectual, brilliant stylist, and prolific author.... Kolakowski knew history and the history of his chosen discipline, philosophy, and it informed his arguments with God and everybody else, conducted in bitingly ironic fashion. He deserves greater appreciation for the inimitable way he articulated the great moral questions that haunted European intellectuals after midcentury and before postmodernism disengaged the intelligentsia.”
Happiness is difficult even for Kolakowski (1927–2009), who rose quickly to professor of philosophy at the University of Warsaw until 1968, when the Communist regime's grip tightened and he left Poland for Berkeley, CA, and All Souls, Oxford. In this collection of 28 essays, ten of which appear for the first time in English, Kolakowski is preoccupied with religion (mostly Christianity) and the Stalinist twists and outcomes of Marxism. The remainder of his writings center on the theory of history and the history of philosophy. Kolakowski's Jesus is not God but rather a troubled man teaching love and opposing legalism. In some places, the author touches upon a possible apocalypse (e.g., in "Our Merry Apocalypse") but sees us, like God, as struggling with glimpsed fundamental values amid a sea of troubles and finds no final pattern in history or philosophy. VERDICT A pudding with plums (glimpses of the human predicament) but also soggy parts (old disputes about the lost world of communism). Worthwhile for the plums.—Leslie Armour, Dominican Univ. Coll., Ottawa, Ont.
A collection of essays by the Polish philosopher Kolakowski (1927–2009), viewed by some as one of the intellectual progenitors of Poland's Solidarity movement. Respected internationally for his opposition to Marxism, as reflected in his three-volume study Main Currents of Marxism, the author was expelled from Poland's United Workers' Party in 1956 and fired from his philosophy chair at the University of Warsaw in 1968. The present collection has been assembled and edited by his widow and collaborator, Agnieszka Kolakowska, and includes some essays published for the first time in English. There are three sections. The first part includes selected writings on Marxism, communism, socialism, totalitarianism and ideology in general. In her introduction, Kolakowska explains their current relevance because of Kolakowski's warning that "the spectre is stronger than the spells we cast on it. It might come back to life." In the second part, the author focuses on religion, and most of the pieces have not appeared in English before. In the third part, Kolakowski takes up the philosophical issues that preoccupied him for much of his life. More than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, fears about the revival of Marxism may seem anachronistic, but Kolakowski's views on God, religion and truth show his thinking about totalitarian ideology and its relation to Marxism in a fresh light. He addresses common features of Marxism, Nazism and Mussolini's brand of fascism, attempting to identify what was common and particular to the three, as well as how the Holocaust and Stalin's gulag system can be compared. As a believer in God and a humanist, he affirms "the main ideas of the Enlightenment [which]… have their historical origins in Christianity." Stimulating and provocative.