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Through a close reading of the lives and works of some of the greatest intellectuals of recent times, Adam Shatz asks: do writers have an ethical imperative to question injustice? How can one remain a dispassionate thinker when involved in the cut and thrust of politics? And, in an age of horror and crisis, what does it mean to be a committed writer?
Shatz interrogates the major figures of twentieth and twenty-first century thought and finds within their lives and work the roots of our present intellectual and geopolitical situation. Charting the role of the committed intellectual through the work of Jean-Paul Sartre on the Algerian War and Edward Said's lifelong solidarity with the Palestinian people, to Fouad Ajami's role as the "native informant" for pro-intervention cause in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, alongside philosophers and critics Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Claude Lévi-Strauss and the novelists Michel Houllebecq and Richard Wright, each struggled to reconcile their writing and their politics, their thought and their commitments. Writers and Missionaries is an erudite and incisive work of intellectual elucidation and biographical enquiry that demands that we interrogate anew the relation of thought and action in the struggle for a more just world.