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The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics Hardcover – September 9, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 230 pages
  • Publisher: New York Review of Books; 1ST edition (September 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322769
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,236,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Lilla ably shows how the profound thinkers of our age allowed themselves to embrace the worst ideological furies. -- Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2001

From the Inside Flap

"Mark Lilla is right now America's most brilliant commentator on the European intellectuals--lucid and deep at the same time, which is no small feat." --Paul Berman

"Mark Lilla has written a sober and subtle book on political thinkers and analyzers of the human condition who have become cultural heroes of our time. In many cases he presents their ideas better than they themselves present them. Lilla reads his protagonists with empathy but not with sympathy; he gives them a fair hearing but finds all of them wanting. In varying degrees they are all committing a first-degree offense, namely, being careless about the consequences of their thoughts. Hence the apt title _The Reckless Mind_."--Avishai Margalit

Customer Reviews

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63 of 70 people found the following review helpful By on May 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Mark Lilla's book aims to be both a collection of biographical sketches of influential European intellectuals of the 20th Century and a study of the disastrous attraction political power can have on on the minds of philosophers. In six chapters, each running 30-40 pages, Lilla casts the lives of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Alexandre Kojeve, Walter Benjamin, Carl Schmitt, and Martin Heidegger. Each of these thinkers, according to Lilla, at some point in their intellectual life, went astray turning from the well lit path of reason and taking up the route of "philotyranny".
Lilla's book succeeds most in giving us concise, well researched, and engagingly told stories of the thinking lives of these European intellectuals. His gift for biographical narrative rivals the best profiles of the New Yorker. But Lilla succeeds less well at demonstrating the habits of thought that attract certain intellectuals to politics or making the case for the necessarily disastrous consequences of mixing political power with philosophical thinking. Nevertheless, perhaps precisely because these biographical narratives are told with Lilla's one-sided but engaging tale of "recklessness", his book serves as a good introduction to readers familiar with the names of these revered European intellectuals who have been put off by the often ponderous (and prodigious) prose describing their work.
Lastly, haunting this text, but unfortunately never stepping forward as subject, is the ghost of Leo Strauss. He makes appearances in almost every chapter, as commentator or interlocutor, but the reader never benefits from Lilla's "open" and "clear" descriptive style in order to learn of this other important European emigre whose life and work parallels so many of Lilla's subjects.
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69 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Bill Corporandy on August 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Lilla's account of various philosophers and their disastrous forays into the world of politics is interesting but rather unfocused and often superficial. I enjoyed his opening chapter of the relationships between Jaspers, Heidegger, and Arendt. I gained some insight into how an intelligent Jewish woman like Arendt could have fallen in love with Nazi apologist Heidegger. I remain somewhat baffled by Heidegger's love affair with Nazism except that his philosophical speculations were so abstract that they seem to have become attenuated from a realistic asssessment of politics in the real world. The next chapter on Nazi supporter Carl Schmitt was also interesting. His theologically inspired but militantly unsentimental critique of liberalism as an unrealistic vision in a harsh Hobbesian world of power politics has since gained the attention of leftist thinkers. (Schmitt first came to my attention in the early 1980s when his name began to be frequently mentioned in Telos, a leftist periodical that was in transition to a more conservative political outlook.) Lilla's chapter on Walter Benjamin fails to capture the complexity and originality of his thought. Chapter 4 concerns Alexandre Kojeve, the least well known of the theorists featured in Lilla's book, an apologist for Stalin who reintroduced Hegel into philosophical and political discussion. Lilla does not succeed in informing us of any new ideas that Kojeve contributed yet tells us that many more prominent thinkers made extravagant claims about his absolutely extraordinary importance and influence. Lilla's chapter on the notoriously irresponsible and popular Michel Foucault is a bit more informative and interesting but again somewhat superficial, especially compared to the excellent biography of Foucault by James Miller.Read more ›
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Very well written and very readable. Lots of interesting details about several European philosophers. Unfortunately, there isn't much beyond the biographical details. The "afterword" is the closest the book gets to a serious critique and an original contribution. (The philosopher bios are generally compiled from other biographers.)
Also, the book is really a compilation of (revisions of) previously published essays by the same author, and it shows:
there is not much that connects the chapters.
Readers interested in short and readable summaries of the intellectual and political follies of some of the 20th century's better known German and French philosophers might still find this book valuable.
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Alessandro Bruno on November 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book. It is as easy to read as it is insightful. Lilla does not separate the personal lives of the intellectuals from their work and analyzes the dangerous mix of philosophy and politics. Starting from the example of Plato and the Republic Lilla shows the attempts of many philosophers to take up - and fail - politics. he does not separate their lives from their conceptions of the world nad the manner in which they were unable to separate the political from the ideological. se .I found the critiques of Heidegger and Schmitt very useful, but I was especially drawn to Foucault and Derrida. Not because the otehr intellectuals in questions are less interesting but because the latter have shaped the postmodern intellectual framework that we have just recently began to question. the conclusion is masterful and makes an excellent case to fear the philotyrannical intelelctual as Lilla terms it. It is possible to read it in a weekend and I can find few books that offer such intellectual value for so little time.
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More About the Author

Mark Lilla was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1956. After briefly attending Wayne State University Lilla graduated from the University of Michigan in 1978 with a degree in economics and political science. While attending the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he began writing journalism, and after graduating in 1980 became an editor of the public policy quarterly The Public Interest, where he remained until 1984. Returning to Harvard, he worked with sociologist Daniel Bell and political theorists Judith Shklar and Harvey Mansfield, receiving his PhD in Government in 1990.

Lilla is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and the New York Times, but is best known for his books The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics and The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. After holding professorships at New York University and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, he joined Columbia University in 2007 as Professor of the Humanities. He lectures widely and has delivered the Weizmann Memorial Lecture in Israel and the Carlyle Lectures at Oxford University.

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