This book is simultaneously awe-inspiring and almost too painful to bear.
The pain is due to the fact that as he wrote it Tony Judt was dying from an atrocious illness, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which gradually imprisons a mind in a body so totally paralysed that breathing can only be done with the help of a machine and speech is impossible. That small amount of explanation is distressing enough. The precise account of what it is like to experience ALS, given by Judt at the start of the book, is horrifying.
The awe arises from two of Judt’s sentences: ‘To fall prey to a motor neuron disease is surely to have offended the Gods at some point, and there is nothing more to be said. But if you must suffer thus, better to have a well-stocked head.’