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The Twilight of the Intellectuals: Culture and Politics in the Era of the Cold War Hardcover – February 9, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee (February 9, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566632226
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566632225
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,628,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This seems to be a period of stocktaking by neoconservatives, for Kramer's collection of essays and reviews comes on the heels of Norman Podhoretz's Ex-Friends. The two authors share many attitudes, having both evolved from radical leftists in their early years to vociferous critics of what they see as today's totalitarian dominance of American political and cultural thought by the left. But Podhoretz's book was freshly written and observed, while Kramer's is basically a collection of book reviews and essays, most of them written during the past dozen years. While Podhoretz is essentially retired, Kramer continues to enjoy a journalistic pulpit with his weekly pieces of art criticism in the New York Observer. He takes a lot of expected swipes here, usually employing as his base a biography of the subject under discussion: Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald, Susan Sontag, Jean-Paul Sartre, Kenneth Tynan. He blames Saul Bellow for not being sufficiently vigorous in responding to the PC attacks leveled against him, and has interesting observations on the permutations through which journals like Partisan Review and the New Republic have passed. There are thoughtful and revealing essays on two major art critics, Kramer's mentor Clement Greenberg and Meyer Schapiro, and on the mysterious Whittaker Chambers (whose now largely forgotten Witness Kramer describes as "one of the best books ever written about the Communist experience in America"). Readers will find this to be a lively collection, whether or not they adhere to Kramer's stern view of recent intellectual history.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Kramer, former art critic for the New York Times and founding editor of the New Criterion, here collects essays from the latter as well as from Commentary, the Atlantic Monthly, and others. Many of the essays are updated to include Kramer's current reflections on the events and personalities he discusses. Taking postwar "intellectualism" and its effect on American culture as his theme, Kramer focuses on the "intellectuals" themselves more than on the events surrounding them. Though many of the personalities have faded from the popular imagination (Josephine Herbst, Nora Sayre), others remain alive in popular or academic milieus (Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy). Kramer also includes interesting essays on Clement Greenberg, Meyer Shapiro, and Lincoln Kirstein. For a more focused view of Kramer's take on the visual arts, see his Against the Grain: The New Criterion on Art and Intellect at the End of the Twentieth Century (LJ 3/1/95). Though for this reviewer's taste, Kramer finds a few too many Stalinists in the American cultural hierarchy, this is a recommended purchase for most collections.AMartin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Philip Levy on May 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
At any college in the 1960s, there was no more ominous presence than that of Jean Paul Sartre. He was an expressionless obsidian Buddha high on on a mountaintop, a force of nature, a thinker greater than nature itself. Sooner or later he would tip over and crush you as you dozed off in Contemporary Crusades or the Histrionics of the Lower Classes or in whatever class his cosmic status was accepted a priori. Thank you, Hilton Kramer for your marvelous book. Your chapter called "The Flowers on Sartre's Grave" has put Sartre in perspective for me. I believed in 1965 that intellectuals were supposed to like communism (a distant communism, it turns out), but how did Sartre ever subsume his theoties of individualism to such a hideous cause? Apparently even this Buddha made mistakes. Mr. Kramer makes it clear that Sartre was an apologist for the worst tyrannies in modern history.
It is truly liberating to read Kramer's critique of all the many anti-anti-communists whose writings have littered the second half of the 20th century. If Joseph McCarthy had not existed, the anti-anti-communists would have had to create him. Look at how this continues today with the snubbing of Elian (excuse me---Elia) Kazan at Oscars night.
At any rate, this book clarified a great deal about Sidney Hook, Lionel Trilling, and other critics whose direction and magnitude were always so mysterious to me. It was very revealing to see how these men, just by suggesting that communism had faults, drew the bitter ire of so many American writers.
To me, the place of honor that Hilton Kramer holds in literary history is due largely to the fact that (thanks to Tom Wolfe in "The Intelligent Co-ed's Guide" I know this) he was the only American Intellectual who, in 1976, sang the praises of the great scourge of socialism, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Five stars!
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Matthews on December 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book piqued my interest to such a degree that I read it in two sittings. I loved the section on Susan Sontag. I've never been able to understand her which has always annoyed me because it's terrible to feel like your out of your depth with somebody you know is a total weasal. Kramer does a great job articulating her ideas so that I can see them for what they are. He introduces me to many people I've never heard of, namely Whitaker Chambers (what a fascinating character). To read a book written from the perspective of a non-Leftist thinking person is always a treat. A+
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this collection of essays to be outstanding, yet depressing - outstanding because of the author's scintilating portraits of the people he writes about and depressing because of most of the people he writes about were clearly as awful as they were arrogant.
Additionally, his essay on biographies of the 'Bloomsbury' group changed the way I look at literary biographies generally - the reason for reading an author's bio is to enhance your understanding of their works, not to read
gossip about someone who may now be ignored as an author, but who has become 'famous for being famous'.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By The Sanity Inspector on July 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
In a 1994 interview on C-SPAN's Booknotes, reporter and critic John Corry told how politically one-sided the _New York Times_' newsroom was in 1980. In that year, of all the reporters and editors on staff, he only knew of one person who voted for Ronald Reagan, and that was the paper's art critic, Hilton Kramer. Kramer left a couple of years later, continuing his art criticism in the _New York Observer_. But he also set out to do battle with the cultural Left, that "herd of independent minds", in Harold Rosenberg's famous phrase. Eventually, he founded the _New Criterion_, an intellectual journal, which features some of the finest cultural criticism on offer today. This book, Twilight of the Intellectuals, is as much a retrospective of his often lonely mission, as it is a survey of the political climate of American intellectual culture in this century.
_Twilight_ differs from Paul Johnson's _Intellectuals_ in treating only 20th century intellectuals. Plus, Kramer's high culture background allows him to provide the reader with more insight into his subjects' worlds, as opposed to Johnson's uniform tarring of his as scoundrels (mostly accurately, though). Kramer even expresses some nostalgia for some of the people here, such as Kenneth Tynan, giving him his artistic due over the political divide.
But in the main, his work here is a series of political polemics. "Socialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion," is how the Catholic intellectual Richard John Neuhaus described the mindset that Kramer battles here. Throughout, Kramer selects his old articles with the intent of fixing the truth about influential leftist intellectuals firmly in the cultural memory.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Eugene A Jewett on July 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With this book, Hilton Kramer, a Cold-War anti-Communist Liberal of the last half of the 20th century, fills in many historical gaps for younger seekers of intellectual purity. While the book does a credible job explaining shifting differences of cold-war opinion amongst leftist academics and ideologues, it begs us to consider how otherwise intelligent people could continue to support tyranny in the face of such incontrovertible evidence of its evil. Kramer cites the verbal and media assault on anyone daring to question the tenets of the Cold War Socialist Left. He outlines the criticisms of Alexander Solzhinitsyn by George Steiner, the diatribes of Lillian Hellman, that staunch supporter of Stalinism, and the scurrilousness of Mary McCarthy, the pro-Hanoi apologist. He shines light on the Communists in Hollywood and the media and the many ways in which they aided the Soviet cause.
Starting with the intellectual rejection of Whittaker Chambers, in favor of the Soviet spy Alger Hiss, we are treated to a travesty of heresies that have yet to be renounced by their proponents. Kramer points out that Bard College today has an academic chair in their Humanities department in Alger Hiss's name. By the same token, women's studies departments at many universities still use "I, Rigoberta Minchu" as a text even while knowing that she made the story up. Current Writers who have kept on with this tradition of making it up as they go along, in the name of the class warrior socialist cause, are Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe, Stephen Glass of the New Republic, Joseph Ellis of Mount Hollyoke and Janet Cooke of the Washington Post; and these are just the ones who got caught.
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