Johnson, Paul Intellectuals

ISBN 13: 9780060160500

Intellectuals

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9780060160500: Intellectuals

Do the private practices of intellectuals match the standard of their public principles?

How great is their respect for truth? What is their attitude to money? How do they treat their spouses and children - legitimate and illegitimate? How loyal are they to their friends?

Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, Kenneth Tynan and many others are put under the spotlight. With wit and brilliance, Paul Johnson exposes these intellectuals, and questions whether ideas should ever be valued more than individuals.

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Review:

Veteran political commentator, scholar and former editor of The New Statesman Paul Johnson has collected all the nasty, cruel and disgusting episodes in the lives of the mighty dead in order to question their "moral and judgmental credentials to give advice to humanity on how to conduct its affairs."

Intellectuals, according to Johnson, often possess a defining set of characteristic traits; they are lying, cheating, hypocritical, megalomaniacs who combine an abstract love of humanity with an exploitative, selfish and cruel treatment of those who were closest to them. Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer and Kenneth Tynan are put under the spotlight and damned as moral exemplars and truth-tellers while Edmund Wilson, Evelyn Waugh and Orwell provide the necessary foil of intellectual integrity.

This is a voyeuristic, gossip-mongering, ruthless and completely compelling book that leaves a bad taste in the mouth if you consume it at one sitting. Fortunately--since it's a collection of short biographical essays or exposès one can dip in where one likes. Intellectuals is well researched and has the polished concision one might expect from a veteran journalist and scholar. It also has the advantage of dealing with subject matter that is fascinating in itself--the extravagant personalities and spectacular immoralities of some of our most revered figures. Intellectuals doesn't always work as dispassionate intellectual history--for instance the overview of intellectual trends since the 1960s in the final chapter "The Flight of Reason" seems forced--but as a set of exposès it is splendid. --Larry Brown

Book Description:

Paul Johnson examines whether intellectuals are morally fit to give advice to humanity.

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