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Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography

A remarkable account of the life and thoughts of the philosopher and linguist
Ernest Gellner was a multilingual polymath who set the agenda in the study of nationalism and the sociology of Islam for an entire generation of academics and students. This definitive biography follows his trajectory from his early years in Prague, Paris and England to international success as a philosopher and public intellectual. Known both for his highly integrated philosophy of modernity and for combining a respect for nationalism with an appreciation for science, Gellner was passionate in his defence of reason against every for of relativism.

Reviews

  • “The cumulative effect is monumental—and a monument does seem overdue.”
  • “Gellner has been brought back to life—alongside his combative ideas and his maverick approach to intellectual combat—in a sympathetic but by no means reverential biography by his former pupil John A. Hall.”
  • “Few books have more successfully combined the study of personal life and intellectual development in the turbulent setting of the twentieth century.”
  • “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.”
  • “Outstanding.”
  • “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, more than learned enough to follow Gellner’s very broad references, is also patient with his categorical opinions.”

Blog

  • Language, life and nationalisms—Ernest Gellner reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement

    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

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  • "What's not to like?" - Stefan Collini on Ernest Gellner for the London Review of Books

     John A. Hall's "outstanding"  Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography is reviewed by Stefan Collini in  the London Review of Books.  Starting by noting the many comparisons to be made between Gellner and Max Weber - both were philosophers of social science, analysts of modernity and concerned with the role of world religions - he quotes Weber to illustrate the two thinkes  common  refusal to be constrained by academic discipline - "I am not a donkey and I don't have a field".

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  • Three Verso authors longlisted for the the Orwell Prize

    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.'

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