Bill's Reviews > Intellectuals

Intellectuals by Paul  Johnson
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's review
Jan 11, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: books-about-books, non-fiction, history
Read from January 11 to 24, 2012

A devasting critique of the intellectuals who have "shaped the modern world". One after another, Johnson examines the disconnection between the great works and ideals of these world shapers on one hand, and their personal lives on the other. It's a gruelling catalogue of hypocrisy, ego, broken relationships, dishonesty and spectacular moral failure. A difficult but engrossing read. Written before the fall of the Soviet Union, communism seems to be Johnson's ultimate opponent, and he makes a convincing case for the near total failure of the socialist philosophies of almost every intellectual he describes. The portraits of Rousseau, Shelly, Marx, Ibsen, Brecht, Russell and Sartre left me with reduced interest in their work, but I did gain a heightened interest in reading Tolstoy and Hemingway. The final chapters on more recent figures were disappointing -- a similar pattern, but figures of less interest and influence. In the final chapter, "The Flight of Reason", Johnson seems to present portraits of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh to highlight failings in his other subjects. The final page of the book is a bleak rejection of the ability of intellectuals to provide any helpful guidance for society.

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Reading Progress

01/12/2012 page 39
01/13/2012 page 113
29.0% "Rousseau, Shelley, Marx & Ibsen: What a gruelling catalogue of hypocrisy and personal failure!! Hard to read. Tolstoy is the first chapter to make want to read his work."
01/17/2012 page 224
58.0% "Hemingway, Brecht, Russell -- more relentless accounts of hypocrisy and ego! The chapter on Hemingway kindled my interest to read his greatest books."
01/21/2012 page 297
77.0% "Interesting that this book was written in 1988 -- the Communists are definitely the bad guys. The last few chapters are dragging on -- it's the same old story, but featuring more recent (less well known and less influential) figures."
01/24/2012 page 314
82.0% "Brief portraits of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh seem to be summaries of all that is lacking in the other intellectuals..."
01/24/2012 page 342
89.0% "More "depressingly familiar" broken intellectuals. The "flight of reason" of the final chapter is not a cultural description, it's a personal description of what the book demonstrates happens to so many intellectuals."
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