Tony Judt - Illness and Death

Illness and Death

In 2008, Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. From October 2009, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was nevertheless able to give a two-hour public lecture. In January 2010 Judt wrote a short article about his condition, the first of a series of memoirs published in the New York Review of Books. In March 2010, Judt was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, and in June he was interviewed by the BBC's disability affairs correspondent Peter White for the Radio 4 programme No Triumph, No Tragedy.

Judt died of ALS at his home in Manhattan on 6 August 2010. This was two weeks after a major interview and retrospective of his work in Prospect magazine and the day before an article about his illness was published in the Irish Independent indicating that he "won't surrender any time soon" and comparing his suffering to that of author Terry Pratchett, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2007. Shortly before his death, according to The Guardian, he was said to have possessed the "liveliest mind in New York." He continued his work as a public intellectual right up until his death, writing essays for the New York Review of Books and composing and completing a synthetic intellectual history under the title Thinking The Twentieth Century with fellow historian Timothy Snyder. He also wrote a memoir entitled The Memory Chalet, which was published posthumously in November 2010. During his illness, Judt made use of the memory palace technique to remember paragraphs of text during the night, which he placed mentally in rooms of a Swiss chalet and then dictated to his assistant the next day.

Following his death TIME said he was "a historian of the very first order, a public intellectual of an old-fashioned kind and – in more ways than one – a very brave man". He was also praised for carrying out what he himself described as the historian's task "to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly. A well-organised society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves". Mark Levine, a professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, said that Judt's "writings on European history and the need for a new social contract between rulers and ruled can inspire a new generation of scholars and activists in other cultures". Timothy Garton Ash, in his obituary in the New York Review of Books, placed Judt in "the great tradition of the spectateur engagé, the politically engaged but independent and critical intellectual."

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