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Preview — Intellectuals by Paul Johnson
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
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
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
Single Quote Review:
“The famous technique of not separating the author from his work which made him* the leading critic of the nineteenth century ignores what should be obvious to anyone upon reflection, that a book is produced by a different person than the one whom we see in his daily life with his strengths and his weaknesses as a man.”
~ Marcel Proust
[ *him - refers to the French critic Sainte-Beuve, who had inspired a school of critics in the nineteenth century, l’homme et l’oeuvre, which d ...more
Very condescending and even disdainful with little effort at balance by ignoring their many positive contributions. Johnson is given to sweeping statements; one example: ‘. . . a disregard for the truth . . . marks the true secular intellectual ...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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
One reviewer said that Johnson ignored their good contributions, ...more
Occasionally Johnson points out ...more
However, the feeling wore off quickly as I progressed and was able to feel more than curiosity behind those delightful facts. It was nothing less than the hatred towards those intellectuals that was evident. Most of the information so painfully gleaned from sources must be true but I couldn't help doubting the context of the cited passages. That was due to th ...more
Rousseau: fathered numerous illegitimate children and shipped them off to different orphanages, where Johnson speculates they likely died of neglect. And Rousseau's commitment to the abstract is consistent: if one interprets "the general will" and the "contrat social" in terms ...more
This is an excellent book.
It is upsetting and it might affect the reader, so a cautionary or warning sign might be in order on the cover somewhere. Like the adult or Paternal Guidance ratings for some films, one such sign would be advisable.
And why is that?
After you read this book, you will not feel the same about Tolstoy, Hemingway, Shelley…a young adult might feel inclined to avoid their books altogether.
Again; this is a great book, even if it has over four hundred ...more
'...the [Lillian] Hellman case raises and important general question: to what extent do intellectuals as a class expect and require truth from those they admire?'
Apparently they expect little in the way of truth since the intellectuals Johnson discusses in detail in this book are almost to a class, liars. If they're not lying about their own histories (most of them seem to rewrite their family histories, and often much of wha ...more
Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl ...more