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What Are Intellectuals Good For?

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  44 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
Nonfiction. Politics. Literary Criticism. WHAT ARE INTELLECTUALS GOOD FOR? appraises a large gallery of twentieth-century intellectuals, including Randolph Bourne, Dwight Macdonald, Lionel Trilling, Irving Howe, Isaiah Berlin, William F. Buckley Jr., Allan Bloom, Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish, Christopher Lasch, Edward Said, Ellen Willis, and Christopher Hitchens. It also in ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published May 1st 2009 by Pressed Wafer
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Dec 23, 2012 Adam rated it it was amazing
I’m grateful for George Scialabba. In this collection, he promotes public intellectuals and exquisite writing. He writes in favor of economic equality and the defense of democracy against corporate and state power. And in the process, he’s introduced me to a couple dozen fascinating thinkers with some of the best nonfiction prose I’ve ever read.

Scialabba better be a stellar writer—an interviewer in The Times Higher Education asks, “So, given a choice, does Scialabba prefer bad writers who are po
Jonathan Norton
Dec 10, 2015 Jonathan Norton rated it liked it
Scialabba, the hero of the CrookedTimber crowd, gives his audience what they want as he plays grand surveyor and judge of the cultural critics and theorists: putting them in their place and setting their ideas against a little, but not too much, outside reality. This is a book that grumbles about the limits of the academy from the position of a job inside a university, if not an actual teaching role. When he jeers at Isaiah Berlin for giving an audience what it wants to hear, I can't help thinki ...more
Apr 29, 2009 Iris marked it as to-read
Shelves: philosophy, politics
Balm for the unemployed academic's soul: such is my sense of this book after hearing Maureen Corrigan's warm and thoughtful review on Fresh Air.

Her review begins thusly:

Some years ago, when, at last, I'd finished my belabored dissertation and got my Ph.D. in literature, a relative of mine "congratulated" me by asking: "So, are you making any money now?"

Oct 17, 2015 Richard marked it as to-read
Recommended to Richard by:
Want a cold splash in the face of intellectual pessimism? Check out the essay on The New Inquiry entitled How Bad Is It?.

I don't know how I stumbled across it — probably someone on Facebook linked to it, but then the essay sat open in a browser tab for several days, and I lost track of where it came from. First response was head towards #TLDR, but the opening paragraph immediately struck a cord. Well over a decade ago I started pondering the question of whether the astonishing collection of trou
Jul 16, 2009 Chris rated it it was amazing
Reading this book is like taking a short course not only in the work of the most important contemporary intellectuals, but in the Western philosophical and literary canon itself. Scialabba might be the best book critic in the country right now, and his writing exemplifies the power of clear and finely wrought prose. I hope to be able to write half as well about books and ideas before I die.
Jonathan Hiskes
Nov 27, 2015 Jonathan Hiskes rated it liked it
Scialabba chronicles and mourns the passage of the so-called public intellectuals of the midcentury Partisan Review, speculating on why we no longer have writers with such sweeping grasp of so much cultural territory. I wished he'd pressed further on why this sort of sweeping authority now longer seems to work (his quick answer is that every field has gotten more complex and specialized) and why it matters that our most prominent voices are no longer independent but employed by major media or ac ...more
Peter Davis
Jun 07, 2015 Peter Davis rated it really liked it
A collection of joyful, life-affirming, nuanced and smart essays from a deeply humane writer. The writer is like a movie critic, but for political theory, making this a great intro to a set of political theories. It got me excited to dive into Isaiah Berlin and Christopher Lasch again. It exemplified the Left Conservative outlook - against hierarchy and exclusion, disturbed by rampant capitalism, but devoted to old virtues like community and virtue and craft - that deserves to have a louder voic ...more
Apr 07, 2010 Melissa rated it liked it
Well, after slogging through the last half of this book I can't quite say for sure what intellectuals are good for.

Except maybe to think and write books.

Scialabba has a nice style of writing but I think what makes me go "meh" about What Are Intellectuals Good For? is a problem on my end. Many of the essays in this book are book reviews or political criticism - unfortunately, I haven't read the books under consideration and my political acumen is about nil. My lack contributed greatly to my inabi
Christopher Lydon
Jan 04, 2010 Christopher Lydon rated it it was amazing
George Scialabba's essay collection, What Are Intellectuals Good For? is outwardly a lament for the civic culture and the late great public intellectuals. But it more truly a modern model of wondrously civilized dedication to the ecstatic discipline of ideas. Listen to our conversation.
Jun 24, 2012 Patrick rated it it was amazing
Lucid, intelligent, and fair-minded essays from a critic who sees himself in the tradition of the New York Intellectuals. Yet he's also aware that these writers had their limitations, so he recommends the work of a number of great writers outside that tradition: Richard Rorty, Christopher Lasch, Noam Chomsky, Pasolini, etc. A challenging yet deeply pleasurable collection of book reviews.
Eric Bagai
Nov 06, 2010 Eric Bagai rated it really liked it
Introduced me to a field I thought I'd exhausted with The Nation & similar mags. Political and social philosophy criticism from a rad-left yet sane position.

Wonderful to see Said dealt with properly. And how have I missed Christopher Lasch?! Or Ellen Willis?!

Guess who's next!
I'd never heard of this guy, but came across beguiling review in Logos (a mag I'd never heard of either -- a two-fer day of fine discoveries).
Nick Black
Jun 06, 2009 Nick Black marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-acquire
Saw this in AGNI online as linked from ( Looks good.
Jan 26, 2010 reed rated it liked it
A promising start, but I didn't have time to really get into it. Hope I'll come back to this at a later date.
Apr 29, 2011 Anna rated it it was amazing
Not only is this book amazing, it will point you towards some of the best reading of your life.
May 06, 2009 Donna marked it as to-read
Looking forward to reading this book after hearing the NPR interview about the book and its author.
Mihaela Claudia
Aug 03, 2009 Mihaela Claudia rated it really liked it
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