Writers and Missionaries

Writers and Missionaries:Essays on the Radical Imagination

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What does it mean to be a politically committed writer?

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.


  • What strikes the reader immediately is Adam Shatz's range, that of his subjects and that of his learning. It tells us that these essays come from a very free and strong mind. His independence of spirit is part of the intellectual tradition of the wonderfully written work that beguiles us into contemplation, further thought. We follow his questions into the past and return with better understandings of the present. A gifted soul for our times.

    Darryl Pinckney
  • Astounding. The range, strength and intricate connectedness of these essays by Adam Shatz offers great intellectual nourishment for the reader, and his patient engagement with the work and life of the authors he follows to illustrate his ideas is staggering. What pleasure it was to read his thoughtful essays when they were first published, and what a great boost and singular satisfaction to read them altogether in this superb book.

    Raja Shehadeh, author of We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir
  • For over two decades, Adam Shatz has re-animated the old Anglo-American model of the man of letters, bringing a cosmopolitan flair and moral urgency to de-politicised realms of literary criticism and intellectual journalism. His refusal of conventional pieties is consistently bracing; these selected essays brilliantly showcase his broad and extraordinarily cohesive sensibility.

    Pankaj Mishra