Ill Fares the Land must surely be one of the most remarkable books on politics to have appeared for a very long time. A part of the book’s compelling interest comes from the circumstances in which it was written. Diagnosed not much more than eighteen months ago as suffering from a variant of amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a variant of motor neurone disease, Tony Judt is paralysed from the neck down, and if the disease runs its expected course a time cannot be very far off when communication will become extremely difficult. Originating in a public lecture last August at New York University which Judt delivered with a breathing tube attached to his face, and later dictated to his assistant over a period of eight weeks, the book is the work of a man who describes himself as ‘a bunch of dead muscles, thinking’.
To be able to carry on thinking at all in these circumstances is admirable, but what is truly remarkable is the quality of the thinking Judt continues to do. A British historian working in an American university, he is the author of Post-war (2005), an account of Europe