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Scholar Tony Judt has died

August 7, 2010 | 10:49 am

Tonyjudt Tony Judt, a leading thinker, scholar and writer, died in New York on Friday from complications due to ALS. Judt had described the illness -- the slow and irreversible neurological disorder also known as Lou Gehrig's disease -- in the pages of the New York Review of Books. Read Tony Judt's L.A. Times obituary here.

His recent writings for the New York Review of Books showed, beyond his characteristic intelligence, singular  grace, courage and humor while facing a terminal illness.

He was born in 1948 in London, educated at Cambridge and Paris and became a young Zionist who volunteered for the Israeli Defense Forces during the 1967 war. He had a restless intellect that put his own beliefs, history and current affairs up for constant reevaluation. In June, he wrote a controversial op-ed piece for the NY Times, "Israel without the Cliches."

Judt was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies at NYU.

"Today I'm regarded outside New York University as a loony-tune lefty self-hating Jewish communist; inside the university I'm regarded as a typical old-fashioned white male liberal elitist," he said in a recent interview. "I like that. I'm on the edge of both, it makes me feel comfortable."

Judt won a special Orwell Prize for lifetime achievement. His books include "Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century" (2008), "Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals" (1992), and "Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945" (2005). A column running in Saturday's Irish Independent (which seems to have gone to print before news of his death) chronicles Judt's efforts to continue writing as the disease closed in; perhaps there will be another book of his work.

In the meantime, his 2009 book, "Ill Fares the Land," is his last. In it he wrote:

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For 30 years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest. . . . The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears 'natural' today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric which accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.

Tony Judt is survived by his wife and two sons.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Tony Judt. Credit: John R. Rifkin/The Penguin Press