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.
l'enfer c'est les autres
This is not a book about what why each of the profiled intellectuals profiled are worthy of being remembered, but it's mostly how they are flawed human beings. The author would pick an intellectual, barely explain why they are important today, and then dwell on the persons foibles to a churlish degree making the listener lose sight of why the person is of interest today.
Does the author really know that Marx had "anger is heart" but didn't really act on it? Sometimes it can help to understand the artist (philosopher, writer, poet,...) as an individual and how they are different from their art but not at the expense of understanding why we should know about them today. Give me the complete package of the intellectuals but don't think you've denigrated their body of work by denigrating the person. Hemingway was a dick, but boy, could he write! We know him for his writing not for his life. Yes, we can better understand his writing by understanding the man, but his dickish behavior doesn't negate his writing.
I really despised this approach to story telling. It was not about what the intellectuals thought or why they are special. It is about why they are flawed humans. (Besides is it really flawed not to believe in supernatural transcendental beings based on no real evidence? The author seemed to think most of his subjects were flawed because they saw the world in human terms. Whatever).
Using the author's modus operandi, I could explain how he would describe the great intellectual thinker Jesus. He would first say something about the sermon on the mount and the golden rule and how that revolutionized thought, and then he would say that Jesus said he came to separate families, went to a temple and kicked out money lenders and violently whipped them, and suggested people not wash their hands before eating even though germs can cause disease. Then the author would end the story by casting more doubt on Jesus' intellectual works because of his personnel behavior since when his mother and brothers ask him for help he shouted "who is my mother, who are my brothers" (Matthew 12:48). (The author really seemed to like taking things out of context and I had a feeling that he was more interested in telling his point of view if it supported his dislike for the person with the implication that the art itself is just as bad).
I did not finish the book. I finish almost all of my books, but enough was enough. I thought he would change his formula. But he did not. If I weren't so lazy I would have gotten my credit back on this anti-intellectual, anti-humanist bore of a book.
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.
I learned a great deal about where creatures, such as Hillary Clinton, get their ideas and notions. Rousseau's madness lives on in the ever expanding Government school (indoctrination) system; from 12 years to 16 with the addition of: mandatory "Preschool" and Kindergarten for 4 and 5 years old to 2 years of High School "Post graduate study" at Community Colleges.
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