Remembering Tony Judt

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Tony Judt, the British historian and social critic, died last Friday at 62 from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Although it left him nearly paralyzed, his brain was unimpaired, as evidenced by the series of personal essays he wrote for the New York Review Of Books this year. Here’s the Washington Post obituary.

I was thinking about him today, specifically about his historian’s grasp of post-Cold War politics, his harsh critiques of imperialism and Zionism, and his impassioned embrace of a universal social democratic model, in light of this article in Vanity Fair that Christopher Hitchens wrote about his recent cancer diagnosis.

What’s exemplary about both writers is how resilient the fires of inquiry and creation are in the face of the unimaginable afflictions that can and do beset us. I’m shocked by how we — or some of us at any rate — can think so clearly and beautifully in times of torment and doubt and our own suddenly-revealed and deeply-fragile mortality.  By how the mind can transcend the body’s deterioration. (Perhaps this very miraculous ability of the mind and the body to rise above suffering is what we mean by soul.)

All you have to do to convince yourself of this is read Judt’s essays he wrote this year, especially Night.

I wish Hitchens a speedy recovery, and I’ll respectfully mourn Judt’s passing by reading the rest of his essays and perhaps tackling his massive history of postwar Europe.

In the meantime, I’ll try and bolster my mind and body for whatever might come to pass while not forgetting, at the same time to laugh long, loud and often.


Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →