Shop now Shop now Shop now  Up to 70% Off Fashion  Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Shop now Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
36
3.7 out of 5 stars
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 23 June 2000
This is a short biography of several intellectuals (Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Brecht, Russell, Satre, Gollancz, Hellman, Wilde, Connolly) and a few others (Wilson, Waugh) , specifically seeing if their lives qualified them to say what they said. For example, did Marx know what the conditions of the working man were like? Did Rousseau treat his children well?
This is a good book. Johnson shows, time and again, how some of the people whose ideas most affected the modern age were basing their thinking largely on their own egos and a "creative interpretation" of the evidence.
He defines "intellectual" as someone who effectively rejects the whole of human knowledge to that point and assumes that they can do better. So it is not surprising that the people he surveys are egocentric, deeply troubled, and do not live up to what they preach.
A good quote from the book:
It is a fact, and in some ways a melancholy fact, that massive works of the intellect do not spring from the abstract workings of the brain and the imagination; they are deeply rooted in the personality.
It certainly highlights all the more clearly how distinctive Jesus and his followers were in the history of people with radical ideas, and how little basis there is for accepting so much of the modern worldview.
However, I can't help feeling that Johnson himself falls into some of the traps he highlights in his selection of intellectuals. By having all people who hold fairly similar views, he strengthens the case for anything opposing it, specifically his own.
0Comment| 27 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 20 May 1999
Knowing something of Shelley, I can say that Johnson's Shelley chapter is valueless as history or biography. Shelley was not faultness, but he was rather admirable, sensitive, generous and kind man, who was loved by people around him, and who had a tragic life. Having read the Holmes biography I can see the distortions and the omissions in Johnson's use of his source. (For example Shelley took his family to Wales after a man was imprisoned for distributing one of Shelley's poems, which Johnson reports. But Johnson does not mention another fact from Holmes: that Shelley sent regular payments, that he could ill afford, to sustain the man throughout his imprisonment, because Johnson wants us to think that that Shelley abandoned the man. But there are many other examples of similar distortions: Johnson's "errors" about Elizabeth Hitchener, the end of his first marriage, the death of his daughter Clara and many other things.
My judgement is that the errors and ommisions can only be the result of Johnson's preparedness to ignore or conceal the truth when the truth doesn't fit the picture he wants to paint.
Johnson _may_ also have referred to the FL Jones Oxford edition of Shelley's letters, but Holmes is very obviously the primary source. A friend who has met Holmes reports that Holmes was quite scathing about Johnson's misuse of his book.
I don't know all that much about the other figures in "Intellectuals", but if a man tries to mislead me about something I do know about, then I tend to doubt what he says about things I don't.
"Dishonesty" and "vindictiveness" are what I condemn about the one chapter of Johnson's book I'm competent to judge. Given that chapter, I wouldn't cite "Intellectuals" as an authority on any matter of fact.
Wheels
11 comment| 24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
To me, this is not about politics but about psychology. These ... people all had a nasty shadow side that they tried to compensate for by telling others how to live -- a Jungian analysis of their lives would be very interesting. Unfortunately there is very little analyses but lots of facts and irony, which no doubt contributes to the book's readability. One alternates between feelings of revulsion and amusement and as such the text reads like a thriller. My favourite part is Mary McCarthy's statement on Lilian Hellman: "Every word she's ever written is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'" and the drama that followed. The greatest of ironies is that some of these repulsive characters are still idolised after their theories have been proven to be flawed, destructive or downright murderous, and after their ... personalities have been so brilliantly exposed.
0Comment| 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 27 April 2015
A lot of people denounce Paul Johnson for showing just how repulsive many influential thinkers were - pointing out that there are scandals in his own life (which there are). However, given the hero worship that people like Karl Marx get from their followers (and even from some of their opponents - who bend over backwards to say that X was a good person but....., when X was not a good person at all) it is worth having the side of these people that their followers hide, exposed to public view. Also Johnson shows that this is not just a matter of private bad behaviour - the vileness (the world is not too strong) of many of the "great intellectuals" directly influenced what they taught.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 April 1999
Throughout all the reviews of this book,no one has mentioned the most salient motivating factor of Johnson;his devout catholic faith!He openly admits to finding the replacement of ecclesiastically dominated philosophies with 'rationalism' to be morally abhorrent.Thus we come to the nub of this and indeed all his works;man cannot replace god.That his attacks on bizarrely selected 'intellectuals' are vindictively selective ,unempirical,and ultimately ,of course the work of an intellectual(who himself has recently been shown to be an adulterer,despite fequently railing against infidelity)attempting to use rationalism, rather perversely both nullifies his work,and vindicates it.Thank god for the reformation of the church!
0Comment| 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 March 2000
This is a short biography of several intellectuals (Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Brecht, Russell, Satre, Gollancz, Hellman, Wilde, Connolly) and a few others (Wilson, Waugh) , specifically seeing if their lives qualified them to say what they said. For example, did Marx know what the conditions of the working man were like? Did Rousseau treat his children well?
This is a good book. Johnson shows, time and again, how some of the people whose ideas most affected the modern age were basing their thinking largely on their own egos and a "creative interpretation" of the evidence.
He defines "intellectual" as someone who effectively rejects the whole of human knowledge to that point and assumes that they can do better. So it is not surprising that the people he surveys are egocentric, deeply troubled, and do not live up to what they preach.
A good quote from the book:
It is a fact, and in some ways a melancholy fact, that massive works of the intellect do not spring from the abstract workings of the brain and the imagination; they are deeply rooted in the personality.
It certainly highlights all the more clearly how distinctive the few people with good ideas who live them out are and how little basis there is for accepting so much of the modern worldview.
However, I can't help feeling that Johnson himself falls into some of the traps he highlights in his selection of intellectuals. By having all people who hold fairly similar views, he strengthens the case for anything opposing it, specifically his own. That doesn't weaken the force of his argument though.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 7 November 1996
Paul Johnson has attempted to analyze the lives of the
most influential thinkers in modern history. His analysis
centers on whether these individuals in their private lives
lived up to the standards they argued for publicly. It has
been a couple of years since I read this book, but I still
recall the revulsion I felt when reading this uneven
account. His research on the individuals, I must admit,
is impeccable. His logical skills, however, are truly
bordering on non-existent. In several sections, although
his facts about the individual are accurate, he interprets
them in a way that can only be politely called 'creative'.
The real theme of this book, and the argument that Paul
Johnson continually presents is the 'tyranny of ideas'.
He honestly believes that ideas themselves are inherently
damaging. As I recall, he refers to Rousseau as the
intellectual father of modern day communism, and actually
goes so far as to blame him for the atrocities committed
by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He conveniently forgets
that Rousseau's biggest influence on political thought is
most likely found in the creation of the government of
the United States. No mention of this is made. In fact,
no attempt at an even account of any of these individuals
is made. If a fact sheds a positive light on the person,
it is discounted. If it seems to support one of his pre-
conceived notions, it is focused on has having much higher
import. It is a tabloid style approach to biography, and
should be treated as such. If you are only interested in
the seamy side of the lives of famous thinkers, this is the
book for you. If you really want to know about the lives of
these people, pick up an objective biography of each of
them, and take the time to judge for yourself. This book
is just well-researched anti-intellectual propaganda.
0Comment| 12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 12 September 1998
I bought this book without sitting down for a few minutes and reading at least one of the selections. I goofed! It seemed to me to be an exercise in character assassination. The subjects may very well have been venal men but are their ideas summed up by that venality? Each section should have started out with a summary of the subject's contribution to the intellectual bedrock of our culture. After that, it would have been interesting to note how the subject's moral life and actions conflicted or supported his intellectual statements. If we take this book as an example of the character of intellectuals, we might be tempted to shut down study of liberal arts in the universities! Maybe we should?
Definitely not a keeper!
0Comment| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 31 January 1997
As stated below a real waste of research.Anyone who reads this book,MUST read Chrisitopher Hitchens essay on Johnson in "For The Sake of Argument"
22 comments| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 15 July 1998
I enjoyed his history of 1815 - 1830 very much, so I bought this without much thought, assuming it would show the genesis of certain ideas.
It contains highly critical biographies of some people - Tolstoy, Hemmingway, Sartre, Brecht, and others, and says little about their ideas.
Assuming that they were such bums as described, what point is proven?
Where is a solid definition of what is meant by 'intellectual'? Where is a long list of those who fit and those who don't and why?
How is it shown that the samples chosen for detailed study are randomly selected?
And even if all this be true, once the unproven is discarded, all it says is that some people with very stong convictions tend to let those convictions blind them to truth and to common humanity. Rather tautological.
Entertaining, but poor science.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.