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Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World
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Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  357 ratings  ·  49 reviews
The international publishing sensation is now available in the United States—two brilliant, controversial authors confront each other and their enemies in an unforgettable exchange of letters.

In one corner, Bernard-Henri Lévy, creator of the classic Barbarism with a Human Face, dismissed by the media as a wealthy, self-promoting, arrogant do-gooder. In the other, Michel Ho...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 11th 2011 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2008)
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Sean Beaudoin
A lot of people have slagged this book, even though it's a huge seller in Europe, as a couple of whiny Frenchmen commiserating over their shared mistreatment by the French press. But I think these people don't fully understand the status of authors in France, who are akin to rock stars there, and how microscopically they are both parsed and obsessed over. Both authors have legions of detractors, and the French are not nearly as kind to their literary celebrities as we are. Huge volumes of words...more
"Siamo un incontro di identità molteplici, spezzate, contraddittorie, in lotta le une con le altre, in pace, di nuovo in lotta. Non siamo un soggeto, siamo una voliera."

Dai dialoghi di platoniana memoria ai carteggi intellettualistici dell'età contemporanea, disparati sono i motivi, i temi e le suggestioni che nel corso del tempo hanno avviato scambi e confronti dialettici: ed ecco che piomba sulla Francia contemporanea, a ridare vigore, forse, a un confronto culturale che si è ridotto a una mon...more
Aug 09, 2011 Simon marked it as kill-me-if-i-ever-think-of-reading
OK, I had to start this new bookshelf just to put this book into it. Seriously, kill me if I ever think of reading this.
I was interested in this book because I am a fan of Michel Houellebecq's novels and do not have much love for Bernard-Henri Levi. I knew that this was a series of open letters that the two authors penned to each other. As the title suggests, I expected it to be fairly contentious and I hoped that Houellbecq would win. What I got was something else entirely. Slow at first, the book developed and actually became a page turner as I couldn't wait to see each response. While much of the time it seems...more
Procyon Lotor
Peep Show Una corrispondenza necessita di riservatezza, un argomento di condivisibilit� delle premesse, un dibattito dell'oggetto, un compromesso della contendibilit� e della divisibilit� dell'oggetto conteso, una unione di comunicazione, un vasto interesse di una genericit�. Per cui, il successo di libro su una corrispondenza nata, forse, intuitu publico su argomenti controversi, di poco o punto interesse generale, di due persone non propriamente percepite come maestri, le cui posizioni sono fr...more
Try to put aside all the extra-literary tittle-tattle surrounding Houellebecq and BHL, and just enjoy this one for what it is: a couple of super-smart, hyper-articulate guys talkin' about stuff. To that extent, it's really good. 3.5 stars, as the neurotic sticklers say.
Well, I've had to revise my opinion of Houellebecq. This is a splendid book full of stimulating ideas and interesting perspectives.

The blurb for the Atlantic Books edition of Public Enemies describes this book as a ferocious exchange of letters by two of the most celebrated of French intellectuals but it seems a calm and courteous debate to me. I am undecided as to whether I have formed this impression because the publicists have tried to create conflict as a marketing strategy or because I am...more
Lauren Albert
I really don’t know what to make of this book. As another reviewer said, there really should have been an introduction to put the dialogue in context. I started out just finding it annoying—it seemed to be over-abstract and I couldn’t help feeling like they were looking at the camera—so to speak—rather than at each other. But the book, and they, started to grow on me towards the end. I felt especially sympathetic when Levy was expressing his own sympathy for Houellebecq when his vile mother—who...more
You might be forgiven for snickering at the title of “Public Enemies,” Michel Houllebecq’s and Bernard-Henri Levy’s collection of email correspondence, before even cracking the cover. Far from a threat to the Republic, these two writers are card-carrying members of the Apollonian French literary/philosophical establishment. Any countercultural postures from these public intellectuals, in a country where the role carries real gravity, are bound to be at least a partial masquerade.

Levy, in particu...more
I've seen Bernard-Henri Lévy speaking on TV for years, so when I heard about this book, I thought it would be a lot of fun. A debate between two diametrically opposed French philosophers. How could it be anything but. I must admit that I am by no means a philosopher and have never been a fan of reading philosophy, but I did enjoy this book.

There are times when both Lévy and Houellebecq got off on a train of thought, exploring it and arguing it for the sake of polemics rather than conviction. And...more
Прекрасное, просто прекрасное чтение.
Сначала каждый встает в позу. Как ему кажется, удобную, чтобы выебать другого. Но они так неизменно вежливо друг к другу пристраиваются, подметая перьями пол и расшаркиваясь. Напоминает переписку какого-нибудь 18-го века, не знаю, Руссо с Вольтером. Вольтера с Руссо, как выясняется ближе к середине. Там вообще все самое интересное начинается странице на 200-й. Когда у Леви случается припадок искренности и он вываливает все эти свои мистические сионистские шту...more
Carlos Mestre
Was wondering between giving this book 1 or 2 stars.

The book is a collection of e-mails between Houellebecq and Levy. I bought it because I've been enjoying a few of Houellebecq works, and was interested a bit of an political, cultural analysis of France, and our western society.

The book is sell as a disagreement of both "players", a clearly contrast of opinions, really far from reality, they have opposed views regardless some topics, mostly philanthropy, pessimism and spirituality, but spend...more
This is a book of correspondence. It is definitely not bad. But it is definitely not good. The authors are so damn self-important! But, perhaps if I become relevant one day, I too will be self-important...

What it comes down to is that I may well have been wanting more than one should when reading correspondence, though that doesn't make me any less (however slightly) disappointed.

The best thing about this book is the wealth of references to other things that I want to read, forgot that I wanted...more
A very enjoyable book to read on the bus, but then again Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Lévy are not real heavy weights in the world of letters to me at least. We're not talking Sartre meets Foucault - it is more of a showbiz version of French intellectuals.

What these two do is moan about their public identity, and their importance to culture. Which may be true (and I am a fan of Houellebecq) but it is almost like a Saturday Night Live skit. They're hysterical but I don't think they mean i...more
Ennemis Publics m´a pris plus que 4 mois á terminer faute de bien comprendre tout, car le livre est assez exigeant.

Les remarques de Houllebecq sont plus marrantes que celles de BHL, sauf quelques remarques sur l´amertume ou la déception:

"Entre celui qui vit dans le ressentiment, intoxiqué par l´esprit de rancune, aliéné á sa mélancolie et á son mauvais sang et celui qui, pas tellement par vertu, mais par complexion, ou par auto-dressage, ou parce qu´il a juste mieux á faire (par example un nouv...more
Usually letters between famous people are published posthumously. The fact these are out a year later is simply how things work now I suppose. I wonder if these were handwritten letters or e-mails actually. The very act of writing traditional letters is a self-conscious throwback but then again so is this whole interchange--very deliberately so.

Im a fanatic for Houellebecq's style and attitude so I lapped up the early sections: "We have contributed nothing to France's electropop revival. We wer...more
Benjamin Montero
Dope, read michel's atomized (uk title) years ago and didn't enjoy. But now will read michel's whatever and bernard's left in dark times. I like them both (michel a little more:) and really enjoyed the book.
I found it incredibly difficult to care about anything that Bernard-Henri had to say. He has an incredibly sharp mind, but his curiousity flounders in self-importance. Maybe his incessant name-dropping is some kind of inside joke, but I found him otherwise to be completely without humour, and worse yet, dull.

Michel Houellebecq, on the other hand, is honest, insightful, and entertaining. Granted, I don't read French tabloids, so half the controversy went over my head. But I appreciated that his...more
Frank O'connor
This is a book about the tensions between honesty, truth and fame. It is also a firework display of insight. Unfortunately the publishers believe that presenting the dialogue as a fight might make it more interesting to readers. There is no fight here. There is a cordial exchange of ideas. BHL and MH reveal a lot about themselves and this might satisfy their admirers or detractors, but they also discuss literature, philosophy, fame, writing, cinema, life, death - the whole panoply - and they do...more
Frank O'connor
Apr 01, 2012 Frank O'connor rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: writers, philosophers
This is a book about the tensions between honesty, truth and fame. It is also a firework display of insight. Unfortunately the publishers believe that presenting the dialogue as a fight might make it more interesting to readers. There is no fight here. There is a cordial exchange of ideas. BHL and MH reveal a lot about themselves and this might satisfy their admirers or detractors, but they also discuss literature, philosophy, fame, writing, cinema, life, death - the whole panoply - and they do...more
Michael Mckenna
Opening with an attack and segueing quickly into a sort of tennis game of autobiography and philosophy, "Public Enemies" is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. At root, it's an terrifically and unfailingly French dialogue between ego and diffidence that turns over a great deal of soil before its abrupt conclusion, and it is suffused with an enormous mutual sympathy that the title fails to imply. Readers who arrive at this book with a great affection for either one or both of the authors w...more
Tjibbe Wubbels
A great conversation between Houellebecq and Lévy that covers everything from the pleasures and misfortunes of being a public figure, memories from their youth, literary preferences and philosophical influences. The form, an exchange of letters, makes for an easy read. Insulting each other in a subtle and sophisticated manner keeps the book light and entertaining. Finally, the fact that they find out that they have more in common than they first thought and a friendship seems to form makes you w...more
The opening to this book is very promising and sets the reader up for some very interesting discussion. The book does not deliver on its early promise, but meanders through a range of topics instead. Like other readers I too am more familiar with H than L, and therefore enjoyed H's writing more overall. I would love to see more books in this style, perhaps with more structure to topics, but all conversations wander, don't they?

Entertaining, funny, and a little thought provoking too. I enjoyed th...more
I must admit that one may need to be acquainted with some background information and readings of these two dueling authors to appreciate their exchange. The writing is undoubtedly funny and often witty and insightful, but quite often slides into lengthy exposition of some topics (such as religion, French politics) that demands some prerequisite understanding.

At some point, I shall re-read this book once armed with such necessary background. So far, i can't say that I can fully understand and ap...more
Abandoned this one. It doesn't have an introduction or preface, so I have nothing to guide me other than the paragraph on the back cover. I thought maybe the letters themselves would start to make sense, but they don't. Also, I'm not familiar with most of the people referred to in their non-stop name-dropping. The letters come across like English majors or film students debating in a cafe - more of a pretentious performance than a true debate.
My rating will tend to cling to the Houellebecq sections as I find BHL ever-dull and prone to posing beyond his depth. Cher H's diatribes against contemporary public spaces (bubbles of enforced conformity between private residences) and the stench of political participation (leave it to the users, darling) are gripping reading and his recollections of his father and his childhood are quick to unsettle.
A collection of letters between Houellebecq and Levy. Being a huge fan of the former I very much enjoyed the exchange - you get a nice peak at Houellebecq's views in their raw form - without the usual envelope of fictional narrative around them. Levy isn't as funny or as original but is clearly more 'plugged in' into various worldly affairs so his perspective is not unwelcome either.
Joshua Davis
It's very rare for me to abandon a book i'm reading but I just couldn't get into this book. A friend recommended it to me so I gave it a shot and it's just not for me. I don't know enough about the authors or about the culture they continually reference throughout the correspondence to really 'get it'. I liked the concept, but like I said, it's just not for me.

I am a great fan of Houellebacq and this book was such a pleasure. I felt as I was having a conversation with my favourite writer, one of the most intelligent book I currently read.


Errol Orhan
So-so. I enjoyed the first 200 pages, after that the exchange got a bit dull. Having read most of Houellebecqs books, and having heard of BHL, I was mainly interested in the former's ideas about literature and having a rough idea of who the latter was. Found what I was looking for. Nothing more. But certainly nothing less.
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Michel Houellebecq (born Michel Thomas), born 26 February 1958 (birth certificate) or 1956 on the French island of Réunion, is a controversial and award-winning French novelist. To admirers he is a writer in the tradition of literary provocation that reaches back to the Marquis de Sade and Baudelaire; to detractors he is a peddler of sleaze and shock. Having written poetry and a biography of the h...more
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