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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

The Flight of the Intellectuals

Paul Berman

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author

To purchase The Flight of the Intellectuals

Title: The Flight of the Intellectuals
Author: Paul Berman
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2010
Length: 299 pages
Availability: The Flight of the Intellectuals - US
The Flight of the Intellectuals - UK
The Flight of the Intellectuals - Canada

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Had a go at it (100 pages); intrigued, but found the approach ultimately too casual

Chances that we will review it:


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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 6-8/2010 Thomas Meaney
Foreign Affairs . 7-8/2010 Marc Lynch
Haaretz . 27/5/2010 Evan R. Goldstein
The National . 2/7/2010 John Gray
National Interest . 22/6/2010 David Rieff
The NY Times . 3/5/2010 Dwight Garner
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/5/2010 Anthony Julius
The New Yorker . 7/6/2010 Pankaj Mishra
The Wilson Quarterly . Summer/2010 Jay Tolson

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus

  From the Reviews:
  • "For revealing this side of Ramadan's agenda, Berman deserves our thanks. But Ramadan's influence among Muslims owes precisely to the fact that he's not a Western liberal. We must go on connecting with the bridge builders we have, not the bridge builders we want." - Thomas Meaney, Bookforum

  • "Berman does flag important debates about Islam's impact on Europe and the world, but he is an exceedingly poor guide to navigating them. His reading of Islamism, based on a narrow selection of sources read in translation and only a sliver of the vast scholarship on the subject, fails to grasp its political and intellectual context. He is blind to the dramatic variation and competition across and within groups (.....) This is a pity, for Berman does raise several powerful and troubling questions. (...) Many of the valuable debates that The Flight of the Intellectuals could have sparked are drowned out by Berman's ludicrous efforts to construct an intellectual and organizational genealogy linking Nazi Germany and contemporary Islamism." - Marc Lynch, Foreign Affairs

  • "(L)ucid, elegant" - Evan R. Goldstein, Haaretz

  • "The first thing a reader notices in The Flight of the Intellectuals is its relentless crudity. There is nothing here of the ambiguities and paradoxes of the real world; the daunting complexity of Islam is reduced to a cartoon-like monolith, the wide diversity of Islamist movements is left unexplored and the contradictions of the West are smoothed away. Making no distinction between fundamentalist religion and political movements that use religion to advance their own agendas, Berman writes as if the terrorist threats the world faces today are exclusively or mainly Islamic in origin." - John Gray, The National

  • "That’s it? Endless reading, endless research, 299 pages of dense, overheated prose, with its tropism toward "logic chopping and Talmudic-style micro-exegesis," to use Christopher Hitchens’s description in his memoir, Hitch-22, of the intellectual style of the Trotskyism of his youth, and this is the best Berman can do? One weeps for the trees." - David Rieff, National Interest

  • "It is essentially a booklong polemic against one magazine article: a profile of the Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan, written by Ian Buruma, the Dutch academic and journalist, and published in The New York Times Magazine in 2007. (...) The Flight of the Intellectuals is anything but diffident, and watching Mr. Berman pursue his philosophical prey is a bit like playing an academic version of a first-person-shooter video game: Modern Warfare: Bandit Pundit Edition. One’s goggles begin to steam up. Being inside Mr. Berman’s head can occasionally grate. As a writer he’s alternately emotive and pedantic, an emo-wonk." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "Berman, by contrast, has a fair claim to being regarded as the Benda of our time. In The Flight of the Intellectuals he continues his work of redeeming the good name of intellectuals by exposing the corrupt among them." - Anthony Julius, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Flight of the Intellectuals seems to be laboring merely to underline the obvious: that a Muslim with a political subjectivity shaped by decades of imperial conquest, humiliation, and postcolonial failure does not share the world view of a liberal from Brooklyn. Yet there has long been such a chasm between Western intellectuals and their counterparts in formerly subordinate countries, an incompatibility of historical memories. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the war on terror have hardened prejudice and suspicion on all sides; now more than ever it is necessary for Western intellectuals to find real interlocutors among Muslim thinkers and activists. Tariq Ramadan may not be ideal, but the impulse to engage with him seems to exemplify the best kind of liberalism -- unself-righteous and aware of its own inadequacies. Certainly, Berman’s hopes for delivering reason and freedom at gunpoint have proved calamitous." - Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker

  • "For Berman, the controversy over Ramadan is really a study in the failure of Western intellectuals." - Jay Tolson, The Wilson Quarterly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception

       This riposte to Ian Buruma's The New York Times Magazine profile of Tariq Ramadan from 2007 is an expanded version of a piece Berman published in The New Republic, and the debate about it has been ongoing since then -- now nicely reintensified with the publication of the book.

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The Flight of the Intellectuals: Reviews: Tariq Ramadan: Paul Berman: Other books by Paul Berman under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Paul Berman teaches at NYU.

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© 2010 the complete review

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