How do intellectuals set about reaching their conclusions? How carefully do they examine the evidence? How great is their respect for truth? And how do they apply their public principles to their private lives? In an intriguing series of case studies and incisive portraits, Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Noam Chomsky, and others are revealed as intellectuals both brilliant and contradictory, magnetic and dangerous.
©1988 Paul Johnson; (P)1989 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
I have to say, this was eminently listenable. Some of the intellectuals featured here -- in short biographies -- may surprise you. Ibsen? Hemingway? Whomever they are, they're not spared the critical eye of the author. Especially when it comes to the lives they led. None of them, it seems, could be considered a good guy with some faults. And were it not for their intellects and their art, they wouldn't have contributed anything to humanity. Things at times verge on the catty. We learn more about their personal lives than their ideas. In other words, this is basically intellectual gossip. And yet, well, it was never boring.
Yes, to disabuse him of the fulsome celebrity that these characters have won.
The author, for he outgrew his adolescent sentiments and knew a number of these characters who held on to their opinionated adolescence.
Davidson is one of my favorite narrators. He did Paradise Lost for Blackstone.
The description of Rousseau was memorable. Also Shelley.
A number of chapters I should like to hear again.
When I began listening to this audiobook, I found it compelling and interesting. The people that Johnson discusses are brilliant and flawed, and the movers and shakers of the 19th and 20th centuries, spanning all walks of life and spheres of influence. But after a while, I began to notice the drumbeat Johnson's real message. These intellectuals are not to be trusted; they are predominantly atheists; they are liars and dysfunctional with their families; they are promiscuous and the source of their own miseries. Moreover, once Marx was introduced, almost every single one of them was painted as a Communist Party lackey. The message was clear, and made explicit eventually: public intellectuals should keep their opinions to themselves; they are compulsive liars, even to themselves, poor thinkers, and never, ever to be believed. Once I finished, I looked up the author, and discovered his political leanings really ARE as obvious as you might think: conservative, religious and anti-science. While it was interesting to see what someone from the far right thinks of these giants of their day, I certainly must take everything he says with a large grain of salt. It is a shame really. He made a few good points, but these points are lost in a sea of prejudice. He doesn't even condemn the activities of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee from the 50s. If a reader wishes to make moral judgments of any of the intellectuals here portrayed, their Wikipedia articles do them better justice, and with less obvious preconceptions.
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