PositiveThe Financial TimesIt is painful if instructive to read these passages since Sontag has long personified the culture and cleverness New York’s Jewish intellectuals gave to the world ... In Sontag, the mask slips: the unimpeachable doyenne of radical chic often appears foolish, and her favoured mode of assertion without evidence is her undoing ... Moser doesn’t let his subject off the hook. To a divided world she brought a divided self, he suggests ... Why read Sontag now? Moser’s sensible suggestion is that she showed what few have managed to do: to remain anchored in the canon of high culture while embracing...the culture industry ... There is another reason why Sontag remains relevant. Long before our age of selfies, her concern was that we don’t so much consume images as get consumed by them ... Sontag, for all her faults, fought a long battle against our chronic voyeurism, no less praiseworthy for being on the losing side.
PositiveThe Spectator...[a] beguiling history ... For those of us still traumatised after spending university years banjaxed by such questions as ‘Could God make a bowl of porridge too big to eat?’, Rée’s book may well be the most fun we’ve ever had with anglophone philosophy ... an intellectual adventure story in which the usual suspects — Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Mill — all figure, but get sidelined by his heroes — the oddballs, underdogs and outcasts, many of them women, some of them scary decapitators, who were obliged to operate outside the patriarchal, class-bound academy ... [an] intellectual romp...
Tiffany Watt Smith
PositiveThe GuardianWatt Smith is at her best when she relates cases that flirt with bad taste ... Appealingly, Watt Smith isn’t above this grubby fray ... It is filled not just with gags and shaming confessions, but chastening thoughts—nowhere more so than when she challenges the orthodoxy that schadenfreude has its limits.
Kwame Anthony Appiah
PositiveThe Guardian...a thoughtful study ... Appiah is an excellent person to explore why notions of identity matter so much today ... But if you are going to read only one book on identity this year, Appiah’s is the one. Not just for the vivid autobiographical details ... And not just for his lovely images ... I liked his analysis of cultural appropriation ... I love that remark as a rebuke to the prevailing ethos of constructing our identities by climbing over each other’s faces. Even if Appiah’s suggested goal might be unattainable, the work he proposes that we do towards it would be noble.
PositiveThe GuardianThough many books have been written about the decline of the French intellectual, Sand’s is a welcome addition since it is written, not by a navel-gazing insider, but by someone by turns seduced and revolted by that Gallic neologism, les intellocrates ... What Sand’s book lacks, despite its refreshing absence of deference, is a sense of what made French intellectual production since the war so compelling. Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Kristeva, Lacan, Derrida, Cixous, Deleuze and Guattari are scarcely mentioned and Foucault only gets a cameo ... I’d like to read that adventure story, but Sand doesn’t tell it. Instead, he explores the embarrassing truth that, while in the new millennium the quality of French intellectual life has plummeted, its reputation remains. He bracingly compares media-friendly intellectuals such as Houellebecq, Éric Zemmour and Alain Finkielkraut to Nazi-collaborating writers such as Robert Brasillach and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle ... his admiration for French intellectuals, such as it is, does not extend to self-identifying with Islamophobes.
PositiveThe GuardianAgnès Poirier’s engaging romp through the decade in which Paris rose from wartime shame to assert its claims to be world capital of art, philosophy and turtlenecks teems with...vignettes ... De Beauvoir signed a form denying she was Jewish so she could continue teaching in occupied Paris. While she and Sartre were never freer, Parisian Jews were being rounded up by Parisian cops and murdered in Nazi death camps. Celebrity collaborators, too, in on-trend if unwitting existentialist fashion, defined their moral characters through what they did rather than what they thought—and later came up with shameless rationalizations ... Poirier, though, risks soft pedalling these evasions and self-delusions since, ardent Parisienne that she is, she wants to tell a love story. In her narrative, everyone who is creatively or intellectually anyone is seduced by Paris ... The EU could be seen not the way Poirier sees it, as Paris-created bulwark, but as sociologist Wolfgang Streeck envisioned it—a deregulation machine exposing its citizens to capitalism gone wild. I would argue that, were Sartre and De Beauvoir alive, they would share Streeck’s view. But let’s not leave Paris without yielding, just a little, to Poirier’s rose-tinted image of its charms.