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The Cornel West Reader (Basic Civitas Book) Paperback – August 14, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The grandson of a Baptist minister, West is a professor at Harvard University who has adeptly combined the introspective strengths of the academic philosopher-theologian with the activist and humanist elements of the African-American religious tradition and black nationalist thought. This mammoth collection of social commentary, interviews, essays and memoir details his evolution as a social analyst and public figure, gathering some of his finest work from his previous books (Keeping Faith; Prophetic Fragments; Race Matters, etc.) as well as from a wide range of academic sources. Calling himself "a Chekhovian Christian," West is deeply concerned with the corruption of the dignity of the everyday citizen and the betrayal of the ideals of American democracy through its embrace of racist and sexist beliefs. While the range of his philosophical sermons can occasionally be overwhelming, his eclectic interests and original observations are quite rewarding. Whether he is discussing Marxist theory, slavery, architecture, black sexuality, black-Jewish relations or bebop and rap, his often complex statements yield a continual flood of surprising insights. West is at his most accessible in his interviews with philosopher George Yancy, TV host Bill Moyers and African-American feminist writer bell hooks. This collection amply attests that West's reputation as a brilliant, humane voice in American intellectual discourse is richly deserved. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This reader, edited by West himself (Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. University Professor, Harvard Univ.), presents essays covering his impressive career and development as an intellectual, philosopher, cultural critic, and "Chekhovian Christian." Arranged in eight thematic sectionsAautobiography, modernity, pragmatism, Marxism, political praxes, Christian thought, the arts, and controversial racial issuesAthis work reveals that West's profound commitment to and quest for social justice, across differences, is unrelentingly compassionate and sometimes decorously and ostensibly innocent. Yet West does not feel obligated to write for the everyday folks, especially black folks, he champions. The selected essays, unlike those in his best-selling Race Matters (LJ 3/15/93), are highly theoretical and academic, accessible only to the highly educated. Furthermore, West himself declares that he has given up journalism (a forum in which he could create and maintain a broader audience base) because journalistic writing "can become too simplistic, flat, or clever." For most, these scholarly writings will be too obtuse, convoluted, and pretentious. Recommended for academic libraries.ASherri Barnes, Univ. of California Lib., Santa Barbara
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Basic Civitas Book
  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Civitas Books; New Ed Edition edition (August 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465091105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465091102
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Those interested in the leading black intellectual in America should pick up either "Race Matters," or for a few extra clams, this tome, which collects West's musings on all kinds of topics from politics to religion to the arts. If you're not used to West's style, his verbosity and habitual name-dropping may irritate you. But if you can endure some of his excesses, this book will give you the definitive look at a rare breed of thinker -- one that I only describe as a "jazz intellectual," or an intellectual with "soul." And for you "colorblind" advocates, NO, that's not necessarily a "black" thing, but sure, "black" can have something to do with it.
I especially enjoyed West's riffs on Christianity. While I ultimately don't share his views ("Chekhovian Christian" is how he describes it), I must say that West gives me as much insight on how to live as a Christian in this world as any "true-believer" out there.
Finally, a note re the negative reviews: Humans are self-contradicting folk, and West is the quintessential example: a Christian that espouses Marx, Chekhov, and Beckett; an intellectual that digs soul music; let's be straight -- a black in "the academy." But those that don't see the contradictions in their own existences need to smell some coffee, or move out of Kansas. So, unlike the unhappy campers below, I don't see West's philosophy as meaningless and frustrating, but authentic and empowering. In short, West "keeps it real." That's the only kind of "intellectual" that matters to me; the rest can stay on the bookshelf, gathering dust.
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By A Customer on October 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I bought this collection of Cornel West's writings without knowing what to expect. In fact, it is an amazing compending of his best writings over the years. The best parts of the collection are the introductions that West writes to each of the pieces. He tells us the intellectual influences behind each piece, as well as how they represent his reaction to a particular time and a particular intellectual climate. It's a pity more public intellectuals don't take the time to do a work like this. I can't recommend it enough.
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Format: Paperback
As an avowed atheist, I don't care for much of the content at work in West's treatment's of various cultural phenomena. I disagree with him on most of his more important ideas. And he isn't as critical of urban black culture as he should be (I think, and therein lies my own bias), given his own Chehkovian-Christian foundation...
But if we read only the thinkers with whom we had profound agreement- what would that make of our perceptions? Without dialogue there is no community...
He deals with the seemingly contradictory elements at work in the human character in an interesting, if psuedo-absurdist fashion. And his optimism isn't a naive optimism, though, as I mentioned before, I think he has on cultural blinders. I also thinks he tends to romanticize various nihilisic phenomena deeply entrenched in black culture- his dalliance with hip-hop belies both his idealization of that culture and his need to be appreciated as 'authentic' by modern black America, a culture that seems (at least to me) to be quite anti-intellectual in any respects. How does a Harvard Doctor transcend his own thoughtful nature in order to initiate dialogue with both sides of the racial divide in America? Let's be honest here, America is a country that has bee, is and most likely always will be deeply obseessed with questions of race and identity. This puts Dr. West in an interesting position and it's illuminating to watch him wrestle with both the angels and demons of his fate...
I should add that Dr. West is a highly original and incisive thinker, a fine literary craftsman, and, I think, a boldly provocative scholar, in his own right, especially considering that he works within that bloated uber-vampire of university-systems, Harvard...
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Format: Paperback
This book is a tour de force, a virtual Kamikazee attack, a guerilla assault on the lazy or indifferent American progressive intellect.

Self-described "Chekhovian Christian," Public Philosopher, Cultural and Literary Critique, Christian Minister, Democratic Socialist, Radical Democrat, and Princeton Professor, Cornel West uses this book to extend his existential journey into better understanding (and as a partial response to), what he sees as the deep and unnecessary misery and suffering seen in the richest culture in the world. He does this by exploring the intellectual and existential resources needed to continue to feed our courage for the fight over the long-haul towards achieving "real" democracy.

Much of his quest is directed at answering three basic questions: What does it mean in a radically contingent and fragile world to be: human, modern, and American?

West answers those questions roughly in the following way:

To be human means: enduring with dignity and honesty the existential incongruities and sufferings of life, including the inevitability of death -- and still being able to maintain the courage to continue the battle for a separate identity, freedom and equality.

To be modern is to: have the courage to use one's intellect to first see, and then engage in, a conscious and constructive process of questioning and challenging the prevailing authorities, powers and hierarchies of the society. It means not giving in to the easy certainties of ideologies and false prophecies; and being ever-conscious of the modalities of self-making and the self-creating possibilities of those who suffer.
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