[Read by Frederick Davidson]
Since the time of Voltaire and Rousseau, the secular intellectual has increasingly filled the vacuum left by the decline of the cleric and assumed the functions of moral mentor and critic of mankind. This fascinating portrait of the minds that have shaped the modern world examines the moral credentials of those whose thoughts have influenced humanity.
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, these people are revealed as intellectuals both brilliant and contradictory, magnetic and dangerous.
1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: An Interesting Madman
2. Shelley, or The Heartlessness of Ideas
3. Karl Marx: Howling Gigantic Curses
4. Henrik Ibsen: On the Contrary!
5. Tolstoy: God's Elder Brother
6. The Deep Waters of Ernest Hemingway
7. Bertolt Brecht: Heart of Ice
8. Bertrand Russell: A Case of Logical Fiddlesticks
9. Jean-Paul Sarte: A Little Bar of Fur and Ink
10. Edmund Wilson: A Brand from the Burning
11. The Troubled Conscience of Victor Gollancz
12. Lies, Damned Lies, and Lillian Hellman
13. The Flight of Reason
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Conservative historian Paul Johnson wears his ideology proudly on his sleeve in this often ruthless dissection of the thinkers and artists who (in his view) have shaped modern Western culture, having replaced some 200 years ago "the old clerisy as the guides and mentors of mankind." Taking on the likes of Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell, Lillian Hellman, and Noam Chomsky in turn, Johnson examines one idol after another and finds them all to have feet of clay. In his account, for instance, Ernest Hemingway emerges as an artistic hero who labored endlessly to forge a literary style unmistakably his own, but also as a deeply flawed man whose concern for the perfect phrase did not carry over to a concern for the women who loved him. Gossipy and sharply opinionated, Johnson's essay in cultural history spares no one.
Does it really matter that Henrik Ibsen was vain and arrogant, that Jean-Paul Sartre was incontinent? In Johnson's view, it does: these all-too-human foibles disqualify them, and other thinkers, from presuming to criticize the shortcomings of society. "Beware intellectuals," he concludes (though, given the subjects of his book, it seems he means intellectuals only of the left). "Not only should they be kept well away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of particular suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice." Whether one agrees or not, Johnson's profiles are frequently amusing and illuminating, as when he suggests that the only proletarian Karl Marx ever knew in person was the poor maid who worked for him for decades and was never paid, except in room and board, for her labors. --Gregory McNameeAbout the Author:
PAUL JOHNSON is a British author and historian whose works span the millennia and run the gamut of human activities. His books include Modern Times, A History of the Jews, Intellectuals, The Birth of the Modern, and The Quest for God - which have been translated into many languages. He has been a frequent contributor to the Daily Telegraph, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Spectator, and other newspapers and magazines. He has lectured to academic, business, and political audiences all over the world.
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