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Last Rites Hardcover – February 24, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In these writings concerned with his thoughts and beliefs rather than his life per se, the great twentieth-century historian touches on two major themes of his interpretive (and imaginative) A Thread of Years (1997) and At the End of an Age (2002). One is that the modern (or, more properly, Lukacs says, the bourgeois) age is over; its great intellectual construction, liberalism, exhausted. The other, more important, is that history as knowledge is personal and participant. Objective history is impossible, Lukacs maintains, for each person, including the historian and the thinker (lofty or humble) about history, is enmeshed in human relations and has particular perspectives on events. But those philosophical convictions do not monopolize Lukacs here. Vast and public as well as personal matters, including the connections of physics and history, Lukacs’ situation as a man of two nations (Hungary and America), Churchill (the subject of his most famous histories), and in the lovely, musical last chapter, his three wives, also fall within the purview of his thoughtful, measured prose. --Ray Olson

Review

"Mr. Lukacs is one of the more incisive historians of the 20th century, and especially of the tangled events leading to World War II."—Joseph C. Goulden, Washington Times
(Joseph C. Goulden Washington Times)

"'Send the audience home wanting more', they say in the theater. With this beautiful book, by turns captivating, amusing and moving, John Lukacs has done just that."—John Jay Hughes, America
(John Jay Hughes America 2009-03-02)

"John Lukacs has over the past forty years become one of the most interesting and popular historical writes in the United States. . . . [Last Rites] represents a capstone to an impressive intellectual achievement. . . . Lukacs's prose gives pleasure to his readers. He is a master of historical aphorisms and tart phrases that skewer sloppy authors and hapless historical actors. . . . A graceful summing up of [Lukacs's] life."—Lewis L. Gold, Magill's Literary Annual 2010
(Lewis L. Gold Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300114389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300114386
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,523,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not an autobiography or an installment of an autobiography, but a meditation--a meditation on the nature of history, a meditation on specific aspects of his experience (his affection for Churchill, his three wives . . .) and a meditation on a sensibility. That sensibility is Hungarian-American, Catholic, historical and (he would say) bourgeois. He sees himself as part of a past civilization, one that endured for 500 years and has now dissipated, though elements remain.

His voice (as past readers will be aware) is strong in its opinions and strong in its expression. Those are good things. Even if one does not agree with him his firm views cast the issues in bold relief and prompt reflections on them. He is particularly hard on a few academic idols, but that is, as often as not, refreshing. His views on history are, of course, deeply considered and they are very suggestive and useful.

There is a sadness in his voice, a sadness born of experience and, he would say, Hungarianness. At the same time, there is joy and affection throughout. He has said that he has had a happy unhappy life (which is preferable to an unhappy happy one). This book explains that feeling and it exhibits a sensibility which is simultaneously traditional and unique, sad but hopeful, wise but a bit fearful. It is a very special sensibility, one that his readers will treasure.

Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1976 I bought a copy of The Last European War by John Lukacs and fell in love with history - or as Lukacs would describe it - "historical consciousness" (also the title of one of his most interesting and least-known books). I've been reading him since. Lukacs is a historian of strong opinions, sometimes luminously expressed (e.g., in his almost perfect Five Days in London) - but like any thinker of strong opinions he can also come across as eccentric, even cranky.

Twenty years ago he published his memoirs as Confessions of an Original Sinner - which, I have to confess, strained my appreciation, as did several of the more truculent essays in his omnibus, Remembered Past. Both aspects - the profound and the eccentric - are in full display in Last Rites, his second "history of my thoughts and beliefs." My guess is that this short book will be most appreciated by his longtime readers.

Let me state my own bias. I find his Catholic invocation of God alienating - it detracts from the ideas that most interest me, although Lukacs would no doubt observe that it is intrinsic to these ideas. I'm also not much interested in his love life, although again this is unfair because this IS his memoir. But I take pleasure in his recitation of the "participatory" theory of knowledge - that "people do not have ideas: they choose them" - as well his provocative assertion that "we and our earth are at the center of our universe." This memoir doesn't defend this "new architecture of humanism" so much as invoke it (he's already made the case in his earlier books).
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A review of John Lukacs' "Last Rites." -- I enjoyed these rambling late life reflections on the past and future of the US, the West, Lukacs' wives, and his adopted Pennsylvania home. The personal material seems a bit stuffy, but it's a window into his mind and memories of worlds that are gone now.

Several of the chapters reprise the themes of Lukac's later work -- the end of "bourgeois civilization," the rise of pathological nationalisms, and the corruption of political "conservatism." Like a Wendell Berry turned political historian and philosopher, Lukacs has a unique take on the decline and loss of traditional American sources of strength in the history and traditions of particular places -- our cities, towns, and rural regions.

Lukacs' Hungarian-American Catholic identity colors his conservatism in mildly cranky and endearing ways -- it rounds out the readers' understanding of his perspective -- but it strikes me that his unrelenting interpretation of himself and others (mainly his wives) through the lens of their ethno-religious heritage overstates how much character is conferred through family without reference to class and the economic order. Lukacs seems to think of culture and tradition entirely on the level of ideas which can't exactly be adopted or chosen as they arise from existing culture and tradition. They seem to operate in a kind of closed loop -- chicken or egg? -- either you have them or you do not. That's not an incorrect way to think about healthy cultures, but it is conceptually problematic, and it leaves a lot out. I wish Lukacs had reflected on this.

There is not much awareness in the book of how culture can be fractured by a purely material interest that dominates the economic order.
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Format: Hardcover
The Rockford Institute monthly periodical "Chronicles Magazine" - November, 2010 edition - includes a compelling review of two other Lukacs best sellers, too.
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