The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction

Mark Lilla (Author)
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Product Details

New York Review of Books
Publish Date
September 06, 2016
5.5 X 0.4 X 8.1 inches | 0.45 pounds
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About the Author

Mark Lilla is Professor of Humanities at Columbia. With New York Review Books he has published The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction (2016), The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (2nd. ed., 2016), and, with Robert Silvers and Ronald Dworkin, The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin (2001). His other books include G.B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern (1994), The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West (2007), and, most recently, The Once and Future Liberal: On Political Reaction (2017). He was the 2015 Overseas Press Club of America winner of the Best Commentary on international News in Any Medium for his New York Review series "On France." Visit


"The most impressive and the most enjoyably stylish book I read this year ... Lilla is a superb commentator on politics and society. A wise and cautionary volume." --John Banville, The Irish Times, "Our Favorite Books of the Year"

"The Shipwrecked Mind showcases Lilla's gift for sketching out such long histories -- and historical mythologies -- with a few artful brushstrokes, covering centuries of thought and politics in a few pages. (His chapter titled 'From Luther to Walmart, ' channeling academics such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Brad Gregory to describe the post-Reformation descent into today's rapacious capitalism, is a minor classic all on its own.)" --Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post

"Mark Lilla's graceful, elegant, and concise appraisals of a variety of reactionary figures could not be more timely." --Andrew Sullivan

"Mark Lilla is one of America's foremost intellectuals and he has written an essential book. He argues that we live in an age when revolutionary ideas have lost their allure but reactionary ideas--that protest and reject core elements of the modern world--are gaining strength. As you read these essays, you will be reminded that ideas matter. John Maynard Keynes once explained that 'madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.' To make sense of the madmen, you need first to understand the scribblers." --Fareed Zakaria

"Mark Lilla leads us on a fascinating tour of the modern reactionary mind, shining a fresh light on the ideas and beliefs of a wide range of thinkers, both famous and forgotten. Engagingly written and impressively erudite, this is intellectual biography at its finest." --Robert Kagan

"Lilla has assembled this brief but far from lightweight volume from essays....Taken together they have new force, sketching a cast of mind that has shadowed European thought for a century, and one that may seem disturbingly familiar to students of American politics compact and elegant as they are erudite." --The New York Times Book Review

"Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia, skillfully untangles the apocalyptic 'mytho-histories, ' 'just-so narratives, ' and 'political bedtime stories' favored by the modern right, in Europe and America...The best pages in The Shipwrecked Mind are elegant, concise portraits of refugees from Weimar Europe who fled to America after the Nazi takeover and brought with them 'some very large and very dark ideas about the crisis of the age.'" --Sam Tanenhaus, The New Yorker

"Critical theorists need not accept Lilla's liberal find his analysis and many of his proposals compelling; his plea to adopt new analytical tools beyond the old-fashioned Left/Right dichotomy is even more relevant now, such a short time after the election, and he is right to show that the crisis of democracy cannot be solved by a division to identity groups and selective sets of interests." --Nitzan Levbovic, Critical Inquiry

"Timely--and illuminating...Lilla's book offers a fascinating framework for making sense of our contemporary political landscape." --Sean Illing, Vox

"At a time when the United States is dealing with radical populism and Europe is beset with a new far right, Mark Lilla's The Shipwrecked Mind is the book to read for a more profound understanding of what ails us." --E.J. Dionne

"Mark Lilla is the model of an engaged intellectual. These essays brilliantly explore the unhappy present in the light of history and philosophy." --George Packer

"Philosophically timely and politically urgent." --Avishai Margalit

"Lilla's fascinating exploration of political conservatism shows how various so-called reactionaries have helped shape history....In revealing the mechanics of political reaction, Lilla approaches the subject through a unique religious lens. He is a fantastically gifted essayist, and this short volume collects the best of his recent work--not simply on political reaction or revolution, but on subjects including Judaism, Gnosticism, Islam, and Don Quixote." --Publishers Weekly

"Though the revolutionary impulse has been analyzed to the point of overkill, Lilla suggests that its opposite pole has been all but ignored....Lilla provides a welcome corrective in restoring analytical balance." --Kirkus

"In trenchant prose, [Lilla's] work combines a shrewd assessment of French current events with an impressive command of French history and literature--a rare example of commentary that is at once journalistic and scholarly, and deeply informed." --Overseas Press Club citation for Best Commentary on International News