Books of the year 2010 | Richard Evans

The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt

 

My book of the year is The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt. It's a posthumous publication. Judt died earlier this year from the motor neurone disease that struck him at the age of sixty, rapidly shutting down his physical abilities while leaving his mind intact. In an astonishing act of courage and determination, he decided to use what time he had left to formulate in his head brief essays about his condition, and more especially his own life, putting them, as it were, into the rooms of a "memory chalet" - a self-deprecating reference to the famous "memory palace" of the early modern European traveller Matteo Ricci - before dictating them to an amanuensis. What strikes one on reading these essays is the brilliance of the style, the sharpness of the recollection, the vividness of the pictures they paint, the acuity and lack of illusion of the judgments they deliver on the path that his, and my, generation of Londoners took through the postwar city to the student revolts of 1968 and the alternative society that young leftists claimed to be creating on the Continent in the 1970s. Funny, entertaining, sharply intelligent, they are a moving monument to a brilliant historian who died too young.

 

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