Tony Judt: A Revaluation

Dylan Riley, Associate Professor of Sociology at Berkeley, has published a very good piece in the last New Left Review on Tony Judt. Riley surveys Judt’s intellectual development, from his early works as a historian of the French left to his later fame as an essayist for the New York Review of Books and author of Postwar. Riley contends that Judt’s first two books on French history were marked by good scholarship research but an inconsistency of narrative, his later attacks on the Marxism of the French left were hollow and polemical, and that Postwar, while broad in scope, consists of little original thought.

I haven’t read Judt’s books besides Postwar, so I can’t evaluate Riley’s claims. Considering the extent to which Judt’s reputation came to precede him in his final years, Riley’s final judgment is critical: “In effect, it was his talent, limited but real, as a polemicist and a pamphleteer that disqualified Judt as a historian of ideas, much as he liked to claim the loftier calling.”

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