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Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky Paperback – May 1, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0061253171 ISBN-10: 0061253170 Edition: Revised

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Revised edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061253170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061253171
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Paul Johnson is a historian whose work ranges over the millennia and the whole gamut of human activities. He regularly writes book reviews for several UK magazines and newspapers, such as the Literary Review and The Spectator, and he lectures around the world. He lives in London, England.


More About the Author

Beginning with Modern Times (1985), Paul Johnson's books are acknowledged masterpieces of historical analysis. He is a regular columnist for Forbes and The Spectator, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.

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#89 in Books > History
#89 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

It is easy to accuse Dr. Johnson of ad hominem attacks on these leftist icons.
Uncle Rick
It is a book that anyone who believes that the right sort of ideas or the right sort of people could usher in a perfect world would do well to read this book.
David Hoffman
I have read many and his books are superb, easy reads, informative, and interesting.
William Wade Foster

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

241 of 256 people found the following review helpful By Prairie Pal on December 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is the kind of book that is either going to inspire or infuriate you, but it should provoke valuable discussion and thought in either case. Johnson's thesis is quite simple: the revolutionary thinkers whose ideas have shaped intellectual history over the past 250 years were, for the most part, lousy human beings. These were not not common or garden variety jerks but personalities whose flaws were so manifest that they must call into question the value of the theories they generated.

This is an interesting proposition. Does it matter that Peter Sellers, the world's greatest comedic actor, was a vile neurotic, that Marilyn Monroe was a goddess on screen but a drug-addled manipulator in everyday life, that Winston Churchill, who saved civilization during World War II, was also an alcoholic egomaniac? Probably not. But Johnson asks a deeper question: if a thinker cannot live out his own principles, can these ideas have any real merit? His book convinces us that there is a real connection between the rancid lives lived by intellectuals and the disasters their ideas produced.

For example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is adored by educational theorists and his ideas are entrenched in the curricula of teachers' colleges, despite the fact that he serially abandoned every one of his children. Karl Marx was bourgeois to the core and seems to have exploited the only working-class woman he ever knew: paying her starvation wages, impregnating her and forcing her to abandon their child. Johnson lacerates the behaviour of these prominent figures but more importantly shows how their shabby personal values foreshadow the social harm their works engendered.
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118 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Drew Ross VINE VOICE on August 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
Unfortunately, this book suffers from the sacred cow syndrome. Johnson discredits so many of the secular world's heroes, that many will not allow his voice to come through the din of their ad hominem accusations. It really is a shame because they cry foul without looking at the big picture.

At first glance, this work appears to be using an Ad Hominem attack against mostly secular thinkers. But at its core, it has a much more profound message. These 'attacks' are actually case studies on the validity of the ideas these intellectuals are passing on to our society.

His point is this: If these intellectuals' ideas are going to affect the quality of our lives, we must inspect the quality of these intellectuals' lives. This is not ad hominem, it is looking for the proof in the pudding. If the thinkers are putting forth ideas on the mating habits of the Blue Whale, then looking at their personal life is indeed ad hominem. But if our moral framework is being influenced by a great thinker, then it is perfectly acceptable to look at his or her morality.

I will say that Johnson is very caustic in his critiques (and hilarious at points), but I believe if you read critiques of non-secular moral advocates who were caught with inconsistencies between their private and public lives, the critiques are at least as biting.

Finally, I don't believe most skeptics have read the whole book. The last line of the book is actually where the most clarity is shared.

"Above all, we must at all times remember what intellectuals habitually forget: that people matter more than concepts and must come first. The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas.
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51 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Uncle Rick on November 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
Most reviews of this book are positive, but those which are critical have, I believe, missed the point.

It is easy to accuse Dr. Johnson of ad hominem attacks on these leftist icons. However, his main thesis, as pointed out by others, is that in their own lives they manifestly embraced completely different principles. They clearly did not believe the ideas they were advocated to the rest of us. In some cases -- Bertolt Brecht in particular -- it is clear that they simply profited personally from promoting ideas favorable to the state or to other powerful interests. In other cases -- Marx, for example -- we see the resentful expressions of people who had vaulting opinions of themselves and believed the world owed them a lavish living for sharing their genius with us.

The ideas themselves -- communism and socialism -- have, of course, been thoroughly dissected, debunked and disproved in the course of the 20th century. Unfortunately, they have not been entirely discarded; they are still revered by the current crop of intellectual elites.

Incidentally, is is technically correct that there are conservative intellectuals. However, the term, like "progressive", has been largely co-opted by the political Left, so that its basic meaning has been supplanted by an ideological one.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Fiat Lux on July 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
"This book is an examination of the moral and judgmental credentials of certain leading intellectuals to give advice to humanity on how to conduct it's affairs." This first line in the Acknowledgments prepares you for what is to come. The great irony Mr. Johnson exposes in Marx is poetic: "In all his researches into the iniquities of British capitalists, he came across many instances of low-paid workers but he never succeeded in unearthing one who was paid literally no wages at all. Yet such a worker did exist in his own household. Read about Helen Demuth who worked in the Marx household as a maid for 45 years and never made a penny. "[She was] the only member of the working class that Marx knew at all well, his one real contact with the proletariat" (p. 80, '88 ed.).

Another book something like this is "The Philosophers" by Ben-Ami- Scharfstein (0-19-505927-1). He tend to over-psychologize at times, but it's an interesting read.
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