Synopses & Reviews
In an age in which the lack of independent public intellectuals has often been sorely lamented, the historian Tony Judt played a rare and valuable role, bringing together history and current events, Europe and America, what was and what is with what should be. In When the Facts Change
, Tony Judts widow and fellow historian Jennifer Homans has assembled an essential collection of the most important and influential pieces written in the last fifteen years of Judts life, the years in which he found his voice in the public sphere. Included are seminal essays on the full range of Judts concerns, including Europe as an idea and in reality, before 1989 and thereafter; Israel, the Holocaust and the Jews; American hyperpower and the world after 9/11; and issues of social inclusion and social justice in an age of increasing inequality.
Judt was at once most at home and in a state of what he called internal exile from his native England, from Europe, and from America, and he finally settled in New Yorkbetween them all. He was a historian of the twentieth century acutely aware of the dangers of ethnic exceptionalism, and if he was shaped by anything, it was the Jewish past and his own secularism. His essays on Israel ignited a firestorm debate for their forthright criticisms of Israeli government polices relating to the Palestinians and the occupied territories. Those crucial pieces are published here in book form for the first time, including an essay, never previously published, called What Is to Be Done?” These pieces are suffused with a deep compassion for the Israeli dilemma, a compassion that instilled in Judt a sense of responsibility to speak out and try to find a better path, away from what he saw as a road to ruin.
When the Facts Change also contains Judts homages to the culture heroes who were some of his greatest inspirations: Amos Elon, François Furet, Leszek Kolakowski, and perhaps above all Albert Camus, who never accepted the complacent view that the problem of evil couldn't lie within us as well as outside us. Included here too is a magnificent two-part essay on the social and political importance of railway travel to our modern conception of a good society; as well as the urgent text of What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy,” the final public speech of his life, delivered from a wheelchair after he had been stricken with a terrible illness; and a tender and wise dialogue with his then-teenage son, Daniel, about the different outlooks and burdens of their two generations.
To read When the Facts Change is to miss Tony Judts voice terribly, but to cherish it for what it was, and still is: a wise, human, deeply informed view on our most pressing concerns, delivered in good faith.
Mark Mazower, Financial Times
“Tony Judt was a historian whose journalism includes some of the finest things he wrote... In an era of growing anti-intellectualism, his essays remind us of what we gain when we stick fast to high ethical and intellectual standards, and what is lost when we let them slip.”
Samuel Moyn, The New York Times Book Review:
“Scintillating journalism... This collection is a reminder of Judts clear mind and prose and, as Homans says in her lovely introduction, his fidelity to hard facts and to honest appraisal of the modern scene.... No wonder this book, and Judts assumption of the role of political critic after the Cold War, remain so relevant.”
A great thinkers final testament: a characteristically wise and forthright collection of essays spanning a career of extraordinary intellectual engagement
Tony Judts first collection of essays, Reappraisals, was centered on twentieth-century Europe in history and memory. Some of Judts most prominent and indeed controversial essays felt outside of the scope of Reappraisals, most notably his writings on the state of Israel and its relationship to Palestine. There would be time, it was thought, to fit these essays into a larger frame. Sadly, this would not be the case, at least during the authors own life.
Now, in When the Facts Change, Tony Judts widow and fellow historian, Jennifer Homans, has found the frame, gathering together important essays from the span of Judts career that chronicle both the evolution of his thought and the remarkable consistency of his passionate engagement and intellectual élan. Whether the subject is the scholarly poverty of the new social history, the willful blindness of French collective memory about what happened to the countrys Jews during World War II, or the moral challenge to Israel of the so-called Palestinian problem, the majesty of Tony Judts work lies in his combination of unsparing honesty, intellectual brilliance, and ethical clarity. When the Facts Change exemplifies the utility, indeed the necessity, of minding our history and not letting cheerful fictions suffice in its place. An emphatic demonstration of the power of a great historian to connect us more deeply to the world as it was, as it is, and as it should be, it is a fitting capstone to an extraordinary body of work.
Naive Readings is a collection of nine of Ralph Lerners essays on an astonishing range of notoriously difficult and complex authors and texts including Benjamin Franklins secular and his liturgical writings, Jeffersons Summary View,” and Abraham Lincolns various writings on statesmanship before he took office; Bacons Essayes, Gibbons writings on Jews, and Tocqueville on Edmund Burke; and finally Judah Halevis Kuzari, and Maimonidess Guide of the Perplexed. Lerner presents his essays as experiments that challenge our current habits of reading which, especially in the case of such difficult texts, usually involve a hasty dismissal of whatever is deemed irrelevant and superficial. His aim is to show that such dismissal is almost always an error fatal to gaining a better insight into an authors intent. The antidote, he argues, is to read slowly and naively, paying particular attention to passages where the prose becomes self-conscious, impassioned, and idiosyncratic. It is in these passages, Lerner claims, that we can see a pattern which once it has been discerned appears to have been laying out in plain sight all along. Lerner is especially concerned to untangle surface questions such as the unity of opening and closing, the treatment of significant but not obviously thematic subjects, the surprising choice of a foil for ones argument, and a works structure and organization. A central issue that animates each of the essays is the question of the authors intended effect on his audiences. Ultimately the plain but barely stated message of all these heterogeneous texts is that notwithstanding our limited understanding and finite powers, we are not absolved, individually or collectively, from confronting and mitigating as best we can the difficulties and dangers that life on earth poses to our flourishing.
About the Author
was educated at Kings College, Cambridge, and lÉcole Normale Supérieure, Paris, and taught at Cambridge, Oxford, and Berkeley. He was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University and the director of the Remarque Institute, which he founded in 1995. Professor Judt was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books
, the Times Literary Supplement
, The New Republic
, The New York Times
, and many other journals. Judt is the author of Thinking the Twentieth Century
, The Memory Chalet
, Ill Fares the Land
, and Postwar
, which was one of The New York Times Book Review
s Ten Best Books of 2005 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He died in August 2010 at the age of sixty-two.
Jennifer Homans is the author of Apollos Angels: A History of Ballet. She is the founder and director of The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University and the dance critic for The New Republic. She holds a Ph.D. in modern European history from New York University. Before becoming a writer and scholar, Homans was a professional dancer. She is currently working on a biography of George Balanchine.