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Customer Review

73 of 84 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, October 8, 2008
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This review is from: Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (Hardcover)
Bernard Henri-Levy has a stellar reputation as a public intellectual in France; there is probably no domestic equivalent. Having read several of his articles, all of which were interesting, well-written and informative, I eagerly anticipated this book. I was greatly disappointed.

First, the book is written in a choppy and affected style. Perhaps in an effort to expand an essay-sized work into a book-length item, many paragraphs consist of single sentences. Worse, the sentence structure is annoying. Like this. And maybe also this. Perhaps this. Too. Get it?

Second, in what I assume must be a dazzling display of erudition, BHL name-drops galore. Just about every major and plenty of minor writers, opinion-makers, philosophers and arcane French intellectuals appear throughout the book. For no clear reason. I think.

Third, the elliptical threads of reasoning make the book hard to follow. I was simply baffled by BHL's continued allegiance to "the Left" after he took such pains to demonstrate it's manifest shortcomings. Of course, this rests on his definition of "the Left". That seems to encompass Enlightenment and secular ideals, empathy, a principled stance on anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, a frank characterization of political Islam; in other words, a gumbo of high-minded postures that are not unique to any particular political tendency. At least as far as I can tell. I suppose.

Fourth, his pivot point is the May, 1968 French demonstrations. Exactly why this should serve as the defining occurrence in relatively recent French Leftist tendencies was not made apparent. It seems, in some manner, to feature anti-authoritarian elements. But. Who knows?

Finally, the book has a distinctly parochial tendency. The opening segment on why BHL could not possibly vote for Sarkozy was fine, but not especially germane to the non-French citizen. I guess.

On the other hand, BHL does make some outstanding points and occasionally states them quite lucidly, for example his characterization of the general "world view" of The Left: "We are in a world in which, on the one hand, we have the United States, its English poodle, its Israeli lackey -- a three-headed gorgon that commits all the sins in the world -- and, on the other side, all those who, no matter what their crimes, their ideology, their treatment of their own minorities, their internal policies, their anti-Semitism and their racism, their disdain for women and homosexuals, their lack of press freedom and of any freedom whatsoever, are challenging the former."

In conclusion, this was not the profound indictment of the politically correct, intellectually befuddled, ideologically-driven and distracted Left that I had expected from the book's subtitle: "A Stand Against the New Barbarism". While it serves as a reminder of the very long catalogue of Leftist mistakes (ranging from "fellow-traveler" support of Uncle Joe Stalin to subsequent support of the USSR/Gulag State to impassioned identification with The Great Helmsman, Chairman Mao), it fails in it's presumed purpose.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 12, 2008 12:48:01 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 12, 2008 12:50:18 PM PDT
A very interesting and useful critique. I think I'll still read the book, since even small doses of Levy's brilliance are worth seeking out.

But thanks for the heads-up.

Posted on Oct 21, 2008 3:07:24 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 16, 2009 3:10:47 PM PST]

Posted on Mar 5, 2009 9:07:37 AM PST
Chicken says:
While it puzzled me a little, too, to see the ways HBL situated the history and identitiy of the 'Left', I found his project refreshing; an attempted phenomenology of identification with leftist politics. What really puzzles me, though, is that, instead of simply saying 'the book did not contain what I expected it to', you give it a 2 star rating and say 'it fails in it's presumed purpose.' I found a lot to benefit from HBL's arguments. What you call an 'affected style', I read as sincerity, and I find his references to other intellectuals helpful, since it is in their writings that much of Leftist debate, orthodoxies, ideology, etc. is situated. While I appreciate a critical review, having read this book, there is no way it justifies a 2 star rating. I reccommend it as a fresh attempt at mapping leftist politics both contemporarily and in history.

Posted on Mar 14, 2009 1:50:53 PM PDT
While I have not finished the book yet, I completely concur with this review thus far. What could have been a very powerful and scathing critique of the Left and their recent embrace of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is falling somewhat short into name dropping and philosophy citing as a substitute for substance and expounding on thoughts. Additionally, the writing style I find atrocious. The time I spend mentally reformulating sentences to gain a smoother comprehension of his choppy work is too often becoming a distraction from the message the book is attempting to convey and turning into a lesson in patience. As Mr. Matlock mentioned, I hope the effort expended combing through this rough will be worth finding a few gems.

Posted on Aug 9, 2015 11:46:57 AM PDT
JimN says:
I agree with these critiques but still learned a lot from the book. Frankly I just chalked his writing style up to his huge ego and to Frenchishness in general, but didn't let it distract me from his compelling message.
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