Menand writes essays. This book is a compilation of detailed essays on certain individuals and certain intellectual movements before and during the Cold War. Menand has the gift, a remarkable one, of being able to explain—to explain almost anything. He deftly opens up the complex inner workings of Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism; the assumptions and mode of analysis embodied by structuralism; the troubled reasoning behind Isaiah Berlin's two views of freedom; and the “niche marketing” of The New Yorker magazine, by which its “culturally insecure” readers could be reassured that they were liking the right things for the right reasons and that “any culture worth having could be had without special aesthetic equipment or intellectual equipment.” A New Yorker staff writer himself, one gifted with capacious range and curiosity, he is also aware of the taste and sensibility of his reading audience. But since his book comes...

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