Timothy Snyder has reviewed John A. Hall’s book Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography for the Times Literary Supplement. Snyder praises Hall’s book for its invaluable insights into the life and thought of the great philosopher and anthropologist.
The theory of nationalism itself was Gellner’s life. John A. Hall’s admirable biography helps us to see how this is so, by providing essential biographical information and locating Gellner’s arguments within those of his interlocutors, friendly and otherwise.
Hall’s book is not only a descriptive account of Gellner’s life and intellectual trajectory, but also a rigorous critique of his concepts and theories. Himself an acclaimed scholar, Hall assesses the many layers in Gellner’s work, paying special attention to the connections he drew between language and political nationalism.
Hall shows that Gellner’s intuitions about language use were central to every stage of his career. He drops the clues that allow is to see how the theory of nationalism emerged, not so
The longlists for this year's Orwell Prize, Britain's most prestigious prize for political writing, were announced yesterday evening at a special event in London
Verso is delighted to have two books on the longlist for the book prize. Congratulations to John A. Hall (for Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography) and Owen Hatherley (for A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain), and also to Meltdown author, Paul Mason, who was longlisted for his blog on BBC Newsnight, Idle Scrawl.
Director of the prize, Jean Seaton, said about the nominated books: ‘These books show that political writing can be tender or chilling, furious or forensic, magisterial - or very funny. The whole range of political life is distilled into tremendous prose in these books.' In his commentary about the blogging prize, he suggests, ‘Blogging is evolving under our eyes, its purposes shifting. Public service watchdog? Clever reporting from new spaces in the political process? Telling it like it is in uncomfortable places? Different blogs are all of those and other things: it's an increasingly sophisticated world.'
John A. Hall's Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography is reviewed in the Prague Post, in an article which celebrates Gellner's humour and argues that in contemporary British academia "anyone as brilliant, obnoxious and interdisciplinary as Gellner would be sacked by academic managers."
They don't make intellectuals like Ernest Gellner anymore.
Gellner (1925-95), a ranging public intellectual in the grand Central European tradition, was raised in Prague's Dejvice district, but when the Nazis marched into the city, he and his family left for London, where they lived in a milieu of other Czech Jews. Gellner's life and work are presented by John Hall in Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography, the fruitful result of Hall's meticulous survey of the tomes of published and unpublished materials that Gellner produced. This is more an appreciation than a critical study of a legacy, but it does a fine job of putting Gellner in his historical context ...
In a critical review of John A. Hall's Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography for The New Republic, John Gray opens by agreeing with Hall on one particular point—that Gellner was an exceptionally honest thinker:
John A. Hall concludes his account of Ernest Gellner by observing that his outlook on the world was austere. "But therein lies its attraction," he goes on. "Not much real comfort for our woes is on offer; the consolations peddled in the market are indeed worthless. What Gellner offered was something more mature and demanding: cold intellectual honesty." Brief personal impressions are rarely conclusive, especially when recalled after many years; but that Gellner was an exceptionally honest thinker is beyond reasonable doubt.