There are good books that you read and while you enjoy them, they tend to fall off your mental radar once you’ve set it aside. Then there are fantastic books that you cannot wait to tell your fellow bibliophiles about. These are the books that go beyond good and qualify as great, the ones that you feel enormous admiration for and would passionately defend at great lengths in the company of critics of the work.
I think British historian Tony Judt’s most recent book of short essays called Ill Fares the Land is one of these kinds of books, the rare text that strikes you for it’s fierce intelligence, its clear and concise prose, its deep and moving insights, and its civil and lucid tone. Judt’s brief essays pose several core questions about the nature of society, politics, economics, and the role of the state but primarily attempts to show with both historical and contemporary data regarding wealth concentration, income disparities, labor and employment figures, etc., that societies that are economically stable, healthy and happy are those that do not have a stark gap between rich and poor. Judt argues that where the state continues to play a meaningful civic role in shaping policy and providing for the promotion of a shared vision of the collective good, nations have retained a far more sound foundation for both economic growth and social stability.
A fashioned public intellectual who wrote both for academics and the general public, Judt’s work is sincerely non-polemical and highly refreshing compared to the cacophonous prattle of cable television punditry. Sadly, Judt passed away this year from complications from ALS. His last work, a memoir called The Memory Chalet was published in November. Those who enjoy this book may be also interested in The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.
Ill Fares the Land