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Vaclav Havel: Civic Responsibility in the Postmodern Age (20th Century Political Thinkers)

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0742522558
ISBN-10: 0742522555
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Editorial Reviews

Review

James Pontuso shows his remarkable mastery of the many nuances and complexities of Václav Havel´s life and work under the communist and post-communist social and political conditions. His thought-provoking book is important for all those who are interested in basic human values and transformation politics. (Alena Hromadkova)

It is not hard to write a lively book about Václav Havel, but James Pontuso has done much more than that. Pontuso shows us how and why a poet and a playwright became a politician and a president at the hinge in history when central Europe emerged from its communist coma. There is more life in this story than just its lively central character. (Robert Strong)

I meet very few people, Czechs and foreigners included, that know the latest history of the Czech Republic as well as Dr. Pontuso. And even fewer that have been able to put it in a broader context. I have not read a book on Václav Havel with such a pleasure as this one. Pontuso shows that studying the topic with both diligence and sympathy is worth it! (Dr. Hana Ripkova)

Pontuso portrays Vaclav Havel not just as 'one of the most articulate political leaders of his generation,' but as a statesman who in his deeds and thoughts approximates the Platonic ideal of a Philosopher-King. This book is a must for philosophers, literary critics, and all students of post-communist transitions. (Dr. Krzysztof Jasiewicz)

[This] is the best book-length treatment of Havel's oeuvre (an integration of the writings and the political activity) that I know of. (David S. Danaher Slavic And East European Journal)

In this intellectual biography, Havel emerges as a kind of matrioshka doll: a politician inside a dissident, inside a playwright, inside a philosopher. That makes the outer shell commanding, and Pontuso gives full vent to an exploration of the Czech leader's moral philosophy and philosophy of fundamental meaning, weaving throughout his debt to and dissent from Martin Heidegger. (Foreign Affairs)

Pontuso deserves praise for showing how Havel corrects and breaks with his intellectual influences (primarily Martin Heidegger), mounts a powerful defense of common sense against existentialism and postmodernism, and addresses perennial themes from the canon of political philosophy. Pontuso does a masterful job explicating Havel's philosophy, but he also highlights how mush faith Havel places in culture and moral rhetoric as opposed to political institutions and party politics. (Society)

From the Inside Flap

"Pontuso portrays Vaclav Havel not just as 'one of the most articulate political leaders of his generation,' but as a statesman who in his deeds and thoughts approximates the Platonic ideal of a Philosopher-King. This book is a must for philosophers, literary critics, and all students of post-communist transitions." --Dr. Krzysztof Jasiewicz, Washington and Lee University

"I meet very few people, Czechs and foreigners included, that know the latest history of the Czech Republic as well as Dr. Pontuso. And even fewer that have been able to put it in a broader context. I have not read a book on Václav Havel with such a pleasure as this one. Pontuso shows that studying the topic with both diligence and sympathy is worth it!" --Dr. Hana Ripkova, J. William Fulbright Commission in the Czech Republic

"It is not hard to write a lively book about Václav Havel, but James Pontuso has done much more than that. Pontuso shows us how and why a poet and a playwright became a politician and a president at the hinge in history when central Europe emerged from its communist coma. There is more life in this story than just its lively central character." --Robert Strong, Washington and Lee University

"James Pontuso shows his remarkable mastery of the many nuances and complexities of Václav Havel´s life and work under the communist and post-communist social and political conditions. His thought-provoking book is important for all those who are interested in basic human values and transformation politics." --Alena Hromadkova, Charles University, Czech Republic

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Product Details

  • Series: 20th Century Political Thinkers
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (August 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742522555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742522558
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,040,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Ever since Vaclav Havel appeared on the scene I have been intrigued by his persona, especially when it came to his popularity with the West compared to the relative insignificance of our post-communist leaders (i.e. of Hungary). This book finally provided the answer, although as it turns out it is not an easy one. Havel is as complex as Central-Europe itself or even more so; and his inscrutability or ambiguous character made a definitely Svejkian impression on me. Pontuso makes a very good job to explain the complexities of this Central-European character, including his traits as philosopher, politician and playwright. I particularly enjoyed his crash-course on Martin Heidegger (whose philosophy greatly influenced Havel) whose philosophical views eluded me until now. Pontuso's clear writing on the subject finally clarified for me the major issues that bugged Mr. Heidegger during most his career. Havel's charisma is palpable throughout the book, although I had the impression that Havel had a sheltered upbringing and despite his inprisonment he did not lose his idealism. The latter is not an unequivocal virtue in Central-Europe where we have been subjected to a huge overdose of it already during the last century. All the more significant that Mr. Havel managed to keep both that and his integrity and remained a popular leader during his tenure as president.

I am not sure what Mr. Ball is talking about when he talks about neocons and Pontuso's book: there is not a trace of neoconservatism in this book in my opinion. I hope he didn't mean the mentioning of Plato or Aristotle. It would be a sorry state of affairs in the modern-day US if any reference to ancient philosophers should evoke Strauss, neocons, or the latters' twisted minds.
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Format: Paperback
What happens when you strip away all that was counter-cultural and leftish about Vaclav Havel's political and dramatic writings? As this book demonstrates, you get a version of Havel that neo-cons have been peddling since President Bush the 1st and Francis Fukuyama: a Vaclav Havel who appears to be a quirky surrogate for American conservative thought. True, Havel drifted into this mold during his presidency years of the 1990s. But the "dissident" Havel of the 70s and 80s was no Leo Strauss. And the attempt to squeeze him into this framework, as this book does, is pretty unsatisfying. The Anglophone world still needs an introductory book on Havel - such as Pontuso's attempts to be - that strives for real, academic distance on the subject.
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