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What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way Paperback – 5 Feb 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; First Edition - Later Print Run edition (5 Feb. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007229690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007229697
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 704,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nick Cohen was born in Stockport in 1961. He was educated at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys and Hertford College, Oxford. He began working as a journalist at the Sutton Coldfield News and moved on to the Birmingham Post & Mail, Independent and the Observer, where he has been a columnist since 1996.

He has published two collections of journalism, Cruel Britannia and Waiting for the Etonians. Pretty Straight Guys was a full length book on Britain in the Blair bubble. Two other full length books followed: What's Left? on reactionary strains in left-wing politics, and You Can't Read This Book on 21st century censorship.

Product Description


'A roaring polemic of outrage against the moral and political crisis of the liberal tradition. It is already one of the most discussed current affairs books of the new year…At the very least it forces anyone on the left to think carefully about where their movement has ended up in the modern world.' The Guardian

‘…exceptional and necessary…Do not feel you have to be a leftist or liberal to read it, because it engages with an argument that it crucial for all of us, and for our time.’ Christopher Hitchens, Sunday Times

‘This is a brave, honest and brilliant book. Every page has a provocative insight that makes you want to shake the author's hand or collar him for an argument. Who could ask for more?' Observer

'(He writes with) a genuine passion and human sympathy about people who have experienced appalling suffering.' Michael Burleigh, The Evening Standard

‘Undoubtedly controversial and provocative “What’s Left?” is, as its title suggests, a bleakly witty but perhaps dimly hopeful examination of what it means to be liberal in an age where the lines that have been drawn in the sand are in danger of being washed away.’ Waterstones Books Quarterly

‘One of the most powerful denunciations of the manner in which the Left has lost its way…Cohen's is a brave voice.'
Michael Gove, The Spectator

'Nick Cohen explains how contemporary liberals have lost their way with his usual polemical brio.' The Observer

'An essay of wide reference and great brilliance.' John Lloyd, Financial Times

'Cohen skilfully shows how the left perversely set its moral compass by the United States…Cohen is at his best as a painstakingly forensic officer and he marshals his evidence with flair and rigour…He is at his very best when he exposes the dishonesty of the liberal press…Cohen's book has made me look with greater respect at the motives behind those who led the journey to war in Iraq in 2003, and view many of the anti-war campaigners with a new scepticism…This book is much more than a mere denunciation of old left-wing friends and colleagues. It is also a moving account of a long personal journey carried off with wit, verve, considerable literary skill and compassion.' The Observer

'It is an essay of wide reference and great brilliance, which flays every kind of foot-shuffling excuse for not facing up to the nature of the regime which that evil (and now, mercifully dead) tyrant, Saddam Hussein, inflicted on his country and planned for his region. Cohen surveys a gamut of liberal-left Western opinion that, in part under the pressure of the Iraqi war, has forgotten its best tradition and instead lapsed into its worst, that regards nothing as more important than the failures of its own societies, and that lacks the imagination or the will to comprehend the agonies of those living under tyranny.' Financial Times

'Powerful, angry, forensically argued.' James Delingpole, Mail on Sunday

'Nick Cohen's anger and scorn towards what he sees as the limp residue of Britain's liberal Left scorch their way through these pages.' Sunday Telegraph

'Nick Cohen smells out the cesspits of corruption and injustice with the keenest of noses. He tells it as it is, without fear or favour. He's one of the few independent voices left in an increasingly closed society.' Harold Pinter

'Cohen's re-evaluation of everything that has ever animated his vastly political being says many, many things that really do need to be said.' Deborah Orr, The Independent

'”What's Left “ illuminates some important shifts in political thinking that affect us all whether we like it or not.' The Word

About the Author

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer, The New Statesman and The Evening Standard. In his Channel Four documentaries and general media appearances, he has proved himself to be the witty and excoriating voice of the left. He commands a loyal readership, as his groaning weekly postbag attests. He is the author of two books. ‘Cruel Britannia: Reports on the Sinister and the Preposterous’, a collection of his journalism, was published by Verso in 1999 and ‘Pretty Straight Guys’, a dissection of the Blair leadership.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Mr. G. Morgan on 3 May 2013
Format: Paperback
Cohen's book has stirred a hornets' nest and it is easy to see why. He honestly confesses to a Damascene conversion that caused him, Hitchens-like, to mitigate his old allegiance to the Socialist Left. He traces the Iraq war and its proponents and the discussion of it on the Left. And he castigates the Left, which he sees as largely animated by anti-Americanism. In some ways his is a one man 'The God That Failed' Dick Crossman's book. In that collection of essays writers who became disillusioned with Communism, such as Orwell, Silone and Gide, revealed their repudiations of Communism largely due to the horror at its Soviet style implementation as Marxism-Leninism and caused a firestorm of revulsion by their erstwhile comrades. Cohen's experience seems not unlike these writers in the 1950's in its Cold War context. Here against the background of fundamentalist Islam, Cohen finds the Left all too eager to shed its Enlightenment principles and seeing nothing odd about it. He does. This book too can give any liberal or other leftist pause and, as such, is worth your time if only to sharpen your case against.
What does NOT impress are 1 star reviews whose writers see fit to deride Cohen et al with insulting epithets without seeing how it reveals their own position; such tactics' cheapness seems to escape them. It is not clever and it certainly isn't funny; in fact it is counterproductive (calling Aronovitch 'Fatty' makes one wonder what they might call a Person of Colour. Shame on them).
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By HuddsOn on 7 April 2009
Format: Paperback
It could be argued that what unites liberals is not so much their ideology as their self-image. They have always seen themselves as the champions of progress, the defenders of the poor and marginalised, the fearless pursuers of impartial justice. Their opponents are the bone-headed defenders of tradition and privilege who ensure the executioner's face is always well-hidden.

These typically liberal traits - an effortless moral superiority, instinctive support for the underdog, and opposition to the status quo - are undoubtedly very easy to ridicule. But they only become dangerous when they are detached from genuine altruism. This is what Nick Cohen means when he says the Left has lost its way.

In the author's view, substantial segments of the left are in danger of allowing their movement to degenerate into a trite, self-indulgent counter-culture, in which an angry anti-establishment posturing conceals a lack of a positive political programme. Stop The War and Globalise Resistance, two of the most visibly popular left-wing campaigns, are defined by what they're against, not what they're for. Many people on the left are far too ready to draw an artificial moral equivalence between true tyrannies overseas and the very real but usually much milder moral failings of our own leaders and institutions. The author sets out to explore what's gone wrong and why.

Cohen is probably correct, at least from a British perspective, when he says that most liberals and socialists would find it quite difficult to imagine what a society significantly more left-wing than ours would look like at the present time. The defeat of the blue-collar unions and the rise of popular capitalism in the 1980s left socialism reeling.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Sarah A. Brown VINE VOICE on 30 Dec. 2008
Format: Paperback
Many reviewers of this book - whether writing in newspapers or here on Amazon - seem to distort its arguments. I think (cross) leftists and (smug) rightists both want Cohen's conversion to be more dramatic than in fact it is. I'd skimmed through some of these reviews before reading "What's Left?" and was expecting his perspective to be close to that of, say, Melanie Phillips. But he hasn't abandoned the Left completely, only certain tendencies and views within the Left which he sees as sinister. He has been characterised by some reviewers as a fan of Bush and an unequivocal supporter of the second Iraq war. But this clearly isn't the position he sets out in "What's Left?"

The book is polemical and aimed at general readers, and clearly Cohen has had to shape and select his material in the most rhetorically effective way. Sometimes I felt the argument had been flattened, a middle position excluded. Yet on the whole I thought "What's Left?" was nuanced, thoughtful and consistently absorbing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Seabird on 10 Aug. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is actually written by a left-winger, so all those who think this is the Right attacking the Left are mistaken. Rather, this is the Left attacking the Left, or, to be more specific, one left-winger levelling some well thought-out, well researched criticisms at his fellow left- wingers.

The author clearly believes in left-wing values, such as human rights and freedom, but yet shows how left-wingers have somehow lost their way at times. He talks about left-wingers having appeased dictators, such as Hitler and Saddam, and how left-wingers have marched alongside Islamist fascists in the UK.

A good read, not just for the Right who love to revel in the Left's mistakes, but also for left-wingers who want to learn from them and hopefully ensure that they do not repeat them.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A. Andrews on 5 April 2013
Format: Paperback
I see that by the time of writing this that Nick Cohen's book has already received a fair amount of reviews- reviews which have depended largely on one's politics - so I'll try not to go too much in depth, but my do I have a lot to say about this book. You see Nick Cohen belongs in the same political camp on the left as his hero Christopher Hitchens, and to admit my bias I freely say that I also belong to this camp. It's one which is left, yet feels repulsed by much of the moral relativism and occidentalism that exists, the left which also has different camps in itself. There are of course the likes of Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali, radical intellectuals who almost solely focus on the west (if a problem isn't western related then it doesn't really matter). Tin pot dictators and Islamists killing people? Well only mention the bit where the west (I.e. the US and UK) supports them, and inflate it. It doesn't really help opposing the war in Vietnam or the war in Iraq I suppose to mention atrocities committed by the NVA or the Baathists. That's one group, who despite being somewhat dishonest, are at least worth reading in some areas. The second group have next to no moral credibility. This group includes the likes of George Galloway (whom Cohen criticises the most), a man who my naive and misguided younger days as a radical fifteen to sixteen year old I admired, so I can see the sway he can have over people. The problem is that they don't ignore the likes of those who commit atrocities which aren't western related, they support them provided they're anti-western, which often isn't just anti-imperialism or anti-capitalism (both decently honourable movements) but often anti-democracy, anti-secularism, against women, gays and minorities and totalitarians or zealots.Read more ›
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