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The Memory Chalet

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  994 ratings  ·  148 reviews
The Memory Chalet is a memoir unlike any you have ever read before. Each essay charts some experience or remembrance of the past through the sieve of Tony Judt s prodigious mind. His youthful love of a particular London bus route evolves into a reflection on public civility and interwar urban planning. Memories of the 1968 student riots of Paris meander through the diverge ...more
Hardcover, 226 pages
Published November 11th 2010 by Penguin Press (first published 2010)
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This has to be one of the sadder books I’ve read. It’s not quite on the level of Memories of my Melancholy Whores , which I couldn’t even bear to finish, or quite the terror that 1984 was, and doesn’t have the anguish of End of the Affair. It was sad in a different way.

Tony Judt died last year of ALS, a degenerative disease that left him increasingly immobile- first just in fingers and toes, then entire arms and legs until he could not move at all. In the first essay of this collection, he matte
A moving, thought provoking book by a man in the final stages of a neurodegenerative disorder for whom roaming the corridors of his own mind is about the only pleasure left in life. But what wonderful reflections he leaves us as he wanders through the rooms of his personal memory chalet; thoughts about train travel, growing up in post war London, the British education system, an adolescent dalliance with Labour Zionism, life at Cambridge, revolution, living in New York, national identities versu ...more
Lauren Albert
Judt's tragic death from Lou Gehrig's disease was preceded by its horrifying symptoms--a creeping paralysis which makes movement and then communication impossible. While he lay in bed each night, unable to move from his bed, Judt composed these wonderful essays in his head and then dictated them the next day. After having read both this and Ill Fares the Land, I can only say that if one must be trapped inside a mind--unimaginable as that is--I can think of few minds it would be better to be trap ...more
Cindy Knoke
Such a haunting and beautiful book by such a brilliant man.

While dying of ALS Judt envisions heaven as a train on which he rides continuously through the Alps. This evocative imagery has stayed with me and probably always will.

While becoming progressively “locked in” by ALS, Judt’s mind remains very much alive. He escapes into “the memory chalet,” a Swiss chalet he stayed in on holidays as a child. He recalls in his memory every room, nook and cranny, the smells, the food, the snow, the happy
I have such mixed feelings about this book - but I am not sure whether some of those are not mixed feelings about my own motivations in choosing to read the book. He lays his cards on the table from the beginning, describing with a cool bitterness exactly what it means to have ALS. Judt's was an interesting life, shorter than it should have been, and he moves with ease between his secular Jewish upbringing in Putney, why he learned Czech, his time as a kibbutzim, driving across America and plent ...more
Liana Giorgi
The Memory Chalet is an altogether different book, much more personal, definitely more literary, funny, moving and engaging—and it very likely will also speak to readers with no professional interest in politics or the social sciences. It is a memoir written in an unconventional style, that is to say not in a narrative biographical format, but in the form of associations to the ‘things’ that mattered in his life: food, cars, trains, work, love, women, midlife crisis, the sixties’ cultural revolu ...more
Goodreads' custom of using the text from the inside of the front hardcover dust-jacket as their summary goes awry here by leaving out a critical fact (which is on the back cover): Tony Judt wrote this book while in the terminal stages of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), a neuro-degenerative disorder that progressively paralyses the sufferer's body while leaving the mind totally untouched. Most people who get it die within a couple of years, usually of suffocation, or of complications du ...more
Tony Judt (1948-2010), one of the 21st century's leading public intellectuals, was born in postwar London to Jewish parents, educated at Cambridge and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, and taught at several universities, most notably Cambridge, UC Berkeley and NYU. He wrote several acclaimed books on 20th century European history, including Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century and Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-195 ...more
Courtney Johnston
A 'memory palace', Judt says in this introduction of short biographical texts, is too big, too opulent for his state of mind right now. But a memory chalet - like the small, homey place he stayed with his family as a 10-year-old on a trip to Switzerland when finances were unusually good - yes, a memory chalet he could handle.

'Memory palace' here refers to the memory trick, of laying out a speech or train of thought for later recall by pinning each point to a familiar feature of a building. It's
Jim Ament
The Memory Chalet, by Tony Judt— Review also posted on

Tony Judt, a British Jew educated at Cambridge and the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, was a renowned scholar, historian, teacher, and intellectual. And he wrote this lucid memoir while dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He had to dictate much of the book, and the early descriptions of being a prisoner in his own body were straightforward and chilling
a personal history of tony judt's moral and scholastic education. judt is/was arguably on of the most insightful historians in early 21st century, who died tragically young at 60. he is usa's very own intellectual (god knows we don;t have a whole lot of em' to flaunt around) in the tradition of french public intellectuals like bernard levy Public Enemies.
judt has his last book just out too Thinking the Twentieth Century

in "chalet" when he is talking about usa, living in usa, nyc etc, he is asked
It's hard to separate the contents of this book from the circumstances in which it was written. Trapped in an increasingly immobile body, Judt composed stories (essays, really) at night to keep his mind occupied and to divert his attention from the fact that he simply couldn't move. That struggle to maintain sanity runs through the whole book and starts the whole thing off on a somber note.

And yet, I found myself frequently smiling and even laughing as I read this. This isn't a matter of a sacch
Kasa Cotugno
This book, like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is an unusual memoir written by a man of accomplishment who has been felled by disease, in this case, ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Tony Judt had written many books establishing him as an intellectual of powerful talent, when he wrote what he calls these essays fueled by memory. He gives the best account of life in post WWII London I've read in a long time, but I was particularly taken with his rumination on train travel and his love of going off ...more
Adrian Curtin
A thought-provoking memoir covering a range of experiences from childhood, trains, and society. It is a very personal book written from the confines of Judt's mind as he suffered from ALS.
Patrick L
Absolutely perfect - I couldn't care less, honestly, about the physical limitations he had to surmount in order to write/dictate this, degenerative disease be damned, this book doesn't require any sympathy from a reader to stand up on its own. Tony Judt's led a remarkable life and should necessarily be proud about the way he's approached life so his years being bookended by what must have been a horrifically debilitative disease should scarcely matter. Provoking throughout, completely humble, an ...more
It's a very moving and beautifully written series of memoirs which he wrote as he was dying of ALS, and revisiting his life was essentially the only thing he could do to occupy his time. But it is totally without self-pity, he says at one point “loss is loss and there no sense in making it nicer”
As someone who wasn't brought up Jewish, there are many places that I could identify with his experiences and his observations are so spot-on that I kept saying to myself, yes, that's exactly what I woul
A robust memoir written with wit and passion, and a sparkling ability to connect the pieces of life and history - and to charm the meaning to the surface.
How does a historian record his own life? Not so much unlike a novelist, I would say, as I deeply enjoyed the unabashedly literary style of the book - and it's sincere inclusion of sentiments, blunders, self-delusions and ironies, of food that's been 'boiled to death' as well as the decline of meritocracy and how education can mean having your
Howard Cincotta
Tony Judt was a British-born, U.S. citizen who specialized in French political history before becoming one of his generation’s most admired “public intellectuals,” to use his own label. I have enjoyed his essays for years in the The New York Review of Books.. Judt died of ALS in 2010; The Memory Chalet was his last book.

By the end of his life, Judt could no longer hold a pen or conduct research. Instead, he had to rely on his prodigious memory, erudition, and imagination to survive the endless
So far I am having trouble mustering the interest. It is well written, but the nostalgia is lost on me. It is best appreciated by the generation before me, and especially those with a connection to England and Europe. The links of personal experience to how it fits in with the broader narrative and culture of England/Europe/world are not as strong or developed as I expected.
Absolutely loved it. Tony Judt was a historian, a man of words and ideas, who among other things, wrote for the New York Review of Books. British, with parents who were immigrants or came from immigrant stock, this is a beautifully written reflection on his life and the world of ideas. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2008 and died of it in 2010. He describes his form of the disease: "the salient quality of this particular neurodegenerative disorder is that it leaves your mind clear to reflect upon ...more
Ben Lainhart
A moving look at the memory and past of a great mind whose body is slowly deteriorating.
A brilliant mind trapped in a useless shell of a body. Such is the premise of "The Memory Chalet." Judt is a renowned historian and academic, stricken with ALS. In the final two years of his illness Judt dictated three books. "The Memory Chalet" is the most autobiographical of the three, as Judt uses details from his life as a touchstone to elaborate on historical or political themes. At times I felt out of my depth, at times it was a bit dry, like a college lecture, but the humanity shines thro ...more
I really appreciate what Judt was trying to do here, and despite his detailed descriptions, I still can't fathom how painful it must be to slowly die from ALS. But heartbreaking story aside, I really struggled through the unedited vignettes from, and musings on, his life. There were many excellent nuggets here, especially his thoughts on the time he spent at the Ecole Normale in Paris, as well as his time working on kibbutzim. He clearly has a deep and knowledgeable vocabulary, so as an essayist ...more
The Memory Chalet / Tony Judt. Very well-written memoir written by a brilliant British scholar, who is dying of ALS. Inspiring for me that he continued to think, organize, and communicate until weeks before his death. His chapters on Jewish identity and those on political correctness / sexual politics are worth a second read (I will keep this book for longer, contrary to my current habit of once read donated or recycled. Very much a book about him: no other person is developed to a great degree.
John Bickelhaupt
Mar 19, 2011 John Bickelhaupt rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to John by: New York Times
Tony Judt was a historian whose specialty was the twentieth century after World War II, renowned particularly for the book, Postwar. He died in August, 2010. Some years before he died, he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a nervous system disorder characterized by the progressive loss of muscular control. Over time, ALS sufferers lose the ability to walk, use their hands, speak, and ultimately, breathe. There is no accompanying deterioration of consciousness. Patients b ...more
What makes this beautifully written book of essays particularly remarkable are the circumstances in which it was written. Two years ago, Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative condition that results in eventual paralysis. These essays were composed when Judt was effectively quadriplegic. He could not make notes or reorganise his thoughts on paper. He would instead compose the essays during the night and dictate them to an assistant in the morning. The spectacular f ...more
A memoir by the late British historian and essayist Tony Judt, The Memory Chalet was written in the vein of French editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell And The Butterfly: Judt suffered from motor neuron disease which trapped him- his mental capacity intact- in the prison of his own deteriorating body until he died two years after diagnosis, in the summer of 2010, at age 62.

The conceit of the book is Judt's employment of a mnemonic tool, the "memory palace", to invent and recall narrativ
Karen Codner
Lo compré sin grandes expectativas, leí una crítica en Artes y Letras en El Mercurio. Súbitamente todos conocen a Tony Judt, hasta yo. O sea, pertenezco a esos esnobs intelectuales que saben identificar a los que han escritos cosas buenas, han marcado directrices en el pensamiento contemporáneo. Si bien el autor sufría de ELA y murió en el 2010, y las circunstancias en que escribió el libre son horribles, eso pasará a un segundo plano a medida que uno avanza en la lectura.
Lo que aquí importa es
We cannot choose where we start out in life, but we may finish where we will. --Tony Judt, The Memory Chalet

If there was a book that was the antithesis of the schlock that Tuesdays with Morrie is, this would be it. This is a collection of essays that make up a memoir almost, written by Judt mostly as he battled ALS, becoming less able to control his body over time. This is a sad but beautiful book with stories of Judt's childhood in London, the experience of becoming slowly immobile, his family,
series of autobiographical essays written (dictated) to pass the time while author was immobilized and awake most/all of the night as he died of ALS.

Hard to sort out what I would have thought of it if not told early on about the circumstances. He's definitely a good writer, and I'd probably have finished it anyway, but if you partial out feeling terrible for him I'm not sure the subjects or his take on them would have struck me as remarkable. post-WW II English people understood how and why to l
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Born in 1948, Tony Judt was raised in the East End of London by a mother whose parents had immigrated from Russia and a Belgian father who descended from a line of Lithuanian rabbis. Judt was educated at Emanuel School, before receiving a BA (1969) and PhD (1972) in history from the University of Cambridge.

Like many other Jewish parents living in postwar Europe, his mother and father were secular,
More about Tony Judt...
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 Ill Fares the Land Thinking the Twentieth Century Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century

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“Undergraduates today can select from a swathe of identity studies.... The shortcoming of all these para-academic programs is not that they concentrate on a given ethnic or geographical minority; it is that they encourage members of that minority to study themselves - thereby simultaneously negating the goals of a liberal education and reinforcing the sectarian and ghetto mentalities they purport to undermine.” 15 likes
“Love, it seems to me, is that condition in which one is most contentedly oneself. If this sounds paradoxical, remember Rilke’s admonition: love consists in leaving the loved one space to be themselves while providing the security within which the self may flourish. As a child, I always felt uneasy and a little constrained around people, my family in particular. Solitude was bliss, but not easily obtained. Being always felt stressful- wherever I was there was something to do, someone to please, a duty to be completed, a role inadequately fulfilled: something amiss. Becoming, on the other hand, was relief. I was never so happy as when I was going somewhere on my own, and the longer it took to get there, the better. Walking was pleasurable, cycling enjoyable, bus journeys fun. But the train was very heaven.” 5 likes
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