Book Review – The Memory Chalet

This is a compact collection of essays from a post war historian. Most impressive about the book is the tragic context in which it was written, the author was “effectively quadriplegic at the time of writing” .  Tony Judt, who died on in August last year, had a motor neuron disorder (Lou Gehrig’s disease) which he described as “progressive imprisonment without parole” and wrote the book via dictation arranging his thoughts using a chalet as a mnemonic device to organize his ideas, initially the work was just something occupy the author’s mind rather than a text for publication. Nonetheless, the book stands in its own right as a solid collection of autobiographical reflections and insights into the twentieth century. In addition, perhaps because the author is dying the text contains brutal honesty throughout.

The topics range eclectically from New York to Midlife Crises to Intellectualism, but the essays are connected by Judt’s crisp writing style and most contain interesting insight. For example, “Just because you grew up on bad food, doesn’t mean you lack nostalgia for it.” and “Love… is that condition in which one is most contentedly oneself.”

It’s a short book but those with an interest in post-war Britain, the evolution of capital cities or intellectual thought will likely enjoy it.

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