Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - history / politics

Power and the Idealists

Paul Berman

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Power and the Idealists

Title: Power and the Idealists
Author: Paul Berman
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005
Length: 311 pages
Availability: Power and the Idealists - US
Power and the Idealists - UK
Power and the Idealists - Canada
Cours vite camarade ! - France
Idealisten an der Macht - Deutschland
  • Or, The Passion of Joschka Fischer and its Aftermath
  • The paperback edition comes with a Foreword by Richard Holbrooke

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : useful introductory overview of a (political) generation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 14/11/2005 Stephen Holmes
National Review . 13/2/2006 David Pryce-Jones
New Statesman . 30/10/2006 Nick Cohen
The NY Times Book Rev. . 27/11/2005 Johann Hari
The Washington Post . 18/12/2005 Derek Chollet
Die Welt . 1/4/2006 Jeffrey Gedmin

  From the Reviews:
  • "But where exactly does Berman's theoretical analysis go wrong ? Five deficiencies in his argument stand out. His analogies, first of all, are tendentious to an extreme. (...) But readers should not be put off by this modest conceit. They should instead savor this colorful book for what it is: the last testament of an exotic species, the 1990s liberal hawk, by no means destined to survive the blast furnace of Iraq." - Stephen Holmes, The Nation

  • "Power and the Idealists is a follow-up to his Tale of Two Utopias. But whereas the first book was a generally optimistic account of how the 1960s generation had broken restraints on human sexuality and undermined the apparently unending dictatorship of the Soviet empire, the sequel is far darker. The second Iraq war has forced him to reassess the moral values of his class of 1968." - Nick Cohen, New Statesman

  • "If anyone can put this dispute into its historical context, it's Berman. He is not only an alumnus of the rebellion; he is the keeper of its yearbook and its funeral director." - Johann Hari, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Berman's thoughtful book is a valuable history lesson, especially for those too young to remember much about the tumultuous 1960s or '70s. (...) But what makes this book more than merely a collection of reminiscences of intellectual arguments from the glory days -- earnest if long-forgotten quarrels that largely unfolded in obscure journals -- is that many of these activists have assumed positions of influence in Europe." - Derek Chollet, The Washington Post

  • "Wenn die Gesamteinschätzung Fischers in Bermans Buch auch positiv ist, wäre es gewiß unfair, den Eindruck zu erwecken, der Autor sei abgeneigt, ein kritisches Auge auf seinen Gegenstand zu werfen." - Jeffrey Gedmin, Die Welt

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       In Power and the Idealists Paul Berman uses Joschka Fischer -- one-time young radical turned German Foreign Minister -- as representative (albeit an extreme example) of a (political) generation and the transformations it has undergone. Fischer is a great example -- especially since his past caught up with him in 2001, when a German magazine published pictures of him brutally assaulting a policeman in his wilder days, in 1973, causing a considerable scandal and much German (and European) soul-searching.
       Berman begins his book with this episode (a chapter published in slightly different form in The New Republic in the fall of 2001), and it's a fascinating introduction to the (West) German political world since 1968. Particularly noteworthy is that the pictures were given to the magazine by Bettina Röhl, the daughter of German terrorist Ulrike Meinhof who had committed suicide in jail (on Mother's Day !) a quarter of a century earlier. Though Meinhof was once a respected journalist, she was among those that underwent the most radical transformation, becoming a part of the Rote Armee Fraktion, the terrorist group popularly known as the Baader-Meinhof group. Fischer never went anywhere near that far (despite Rush Limbaugh's claims, amusingly quoted by Berman), but the student and the leftist movements arising out of and around it made for such a broad spectrum of activism and opinion that allowed for and was not entirely unsympathetic to such extremes -- and hence tainted (so Röhl and quite a few others) even those who never went quite so far.
       Much of Berman's book is descriptive, a survey-history of the times. For American readers who are unfamiliar with the German scene in the late 60s and 70s, for example, it's a good quick overview, though focussed on Fischer (and, to a lesser extent, Cohn-Bendit) its perspective is necessarily quite limited.
       Where it gets more interesting is in considering the transformation of Fischer -- and of Cohn-Bendit and, indeed, practically that whole radical generation (of which Berman, as he occasionally mentions, is a member). Berman touches on the main turning points that led Fischer and others to re-think their positions, specifically the use of violence, the implications of the Israeli-Palestinian issues (as everything from a manifestation of German anti-Semitism to support for the oppressed (Palestinian) minority), as well as that ultimate embrace of positions regarding the use of military intervention that seemed to mark a radical departure from earlier positions (and German Green policy in general). While Fischer questioned American justifications for what would be the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 (for which he was much-lambasted in the American press), he had clearly moved far from his thinking of three decades earlier -- yet his past would very much come to haunt him, and undermined (in the public eye) his stance.
       Berman usefully takes his analysis further, in citing a few other examples. Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, for example, offers him a good deal of material on radicalism elsewhere (though again his Iran-survey is only fairly glancing). A different example is Bernard Kouchner, one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders, whose perspective -- often based on familiarity with on-site conditions everywhere from Nicaragua to Iraq (when it was still an American ally) -- differs markedly from some of his more theoretically-focussed contemporaries.
       Berman's survey is useful as an introduction to the influential leftist intellectuals of part of the European scene (with a touch of Iran and a bit more thrown in), helpfully centred around American intervention in Iraq. It presents the positions of various exponents of Western Europe's New Left, specifically in the transformations they have undergone, suggesting how and why they reached their current positions, and the implications of past on present.
       There's much more to say on the subject, but Berman's book makes a good starting- and talking-point, a very readable account of interesting times and a thought-provoking piece on political positions.

- Return to top of the page -


Power and the Idealists: Reviews: Paul Berman: Other books by Paul Berman under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Paul Berman teaches at NYU.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2006-2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links