Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky
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...more
The positive embodiment of this ideal is the "fearless social critic, inquisitive and iconoclastic interpreter of ideas, selfless promoter of the common good." To some extent, the role of intellectual is self-defined; there are no specific requirements for the job, unlike t...more
Particularly interesting were the chapters on Rousseau, Marx, and Tolstoy. The later chapters didn't really pique my interest at all.
I will say that I was not a little bit upset to find out that while Johnson rips into the various intelligentsia for their sexual infidelity in marriage, he himself had an aff...more
Firstly, his selection of who counts is distinctly biased. If there was a choice of more than one intellectual of a given stripe, the personally nasty, libertine, or just plain unappealing were chosen every ti...more
Johnson wasn't joking. A former editor of the leftish "New Statesman," Johnson turned conservative in the 1970s and served as one of Margaret Thatcher's speechwriters. But unlike the neocons in the U.S., who were angry, humorless and l...more
He looks at a selection of intellectuals from Rousseau to Noam Chomsky and sees some disturbing common patterns. They achieve a certain eminence in a particular field (Bertrand Russell in mathematics, Chomsky in linguistics, Shelley, Tolstoy and James Baldwin in literature) and then decide they are uniquely qualified to refashion civilisation. They t...more
You won't be too surprised to hear that it often wasn't though a few of the lesser 20th century figures seem guilty of no worse...more
One day, probably a couple of months after I started I showed up at the office and one of the real employees pulled me aside and told me that Alexander Cockburn was in...more
I initially expected this book to discuss the thinking of the intellectuals therein. However, although Johnson wrote a bit about this, the bulk of the book was basically a catalogue of the vices of these influential writers. In fact, it was too much. I quickly tired of reading about the lies and womanizing. It was not edifying, to say the least. I just skimmed quite a bit.
"Beware of Intellectuals" could easily be the title of this excellent case study by Paul Johnson of intellectuals from the late 18 century up to the twentieth century. Johnson focuses on common themes or character traits as he studies each of these fascinating individuals and examines amongst other things the moral and judgmental credentials of these intellectuals that dare to tell mankind how to conduct itself. Johnson exploits the personal stories and histories of men and women who could be c...more
Gave it 4 stars because it gets a bit tedious as you move on, the stories are basically the same toward the end... which really emphasizes the author's point, that we ought not exalt intellectuals to highly without knowing the kind of people the...more
Well, Johnson does discuss their thoughts, but more importantly, he discusses the personal stories of these people and show how hideous, immoral, cruel, hypocrite, liars they actually are. After reading this book, I think I can never really accept these...more
What a strange book. The whole point of being is to trash intellectuals who think that the pursuit of freedom (either in behavior, in intellectual pursuits, from society.) Paul Johnson admitted that it was unfair to use the private lives of individuals to judge the strength of their thoughts, but nonetheless he spent the entire book documenting the deficiencies of men who talked big and lived meanly. The quality of the men never matched the beauty of their vision, prose, or poetry.
The futility o...more
But does Johnson seriously think we should go back to the clergy telling us how to live our lives? I think he does, and that makes me dubious of how fair the aim of his gattling gun was.
He's a right wing shit-stirrer. Not to be taken too seriously but extremely amusing nonetheless.
Still, the book is worth reading, if you can disregard the ad hominem.
Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl...more