The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent

Trade Paper – $19.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-2488-2
Publication Date
August 2009
Page Count
592 pages
Trim Size
5.5 x 8.5

The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent

Selected Essays

Bringing together the thoughts of one of American literature's sharpest cultural critics, this compendium will open the eyes of a whole new audience to the work of Lionel Trilling.  Trilling was a strenuous thinker who was proud to think "too much."  As an intellectual he did not spare his own kind, and though he did not consider himself a rationalist, he was grounded in the world.

This collection features 32 of Trilling's essays on a range of topics, from Jane Austen to George Orwell and from the Kinsey Report to Lolita.  Also included are Trilling's seminal essays "Art and Neurosis" and "Manners, Morals, and the Novel."  Many of the pieces made their initial appearances in periodicals such as The Partisan Review and Commentary; most were later reprinted in essay collections.  This new gathering of his writings demonstrates again Trilling's patient, thorough style.  Considering "the problems of life"--in art, literature, culture, and intellectual life--was, to him, a vital occupation, even if he did not expect to get anything as simple or encouraging as "answers."  The intellectual journey was the true goal.

No matter the subject, Trilling's arguments come together easily, as if constructing complicated defenses and attacks were singularly simple for his well-honed mind.  The more he wrote on a subject and the more intricate his reasoning, the more clear that subject became; his elaboration is all function and no filler.  Wrestling with Trilling's challenging work still yields rewards today, his ideas speaking to issues that transcend decades and even centuries.

About the Author

Lionel Trilling (1905–75) is the author of the collections Beyond Culture, The Liberal Imagination, and the posthumously published Speaking of Literature and Society. He was a professor at Columbia University.


Leon Wieseltier is the editor of The New Republic and lives in New York City.


"Trilling constantly pits 'spontaneity, complexity, and variety' against the propensity to commiserate with, then condescend to, then coerce our peers."--Kirkus Reviews

"There was never just one thing, in [Trilling's] work. He was mentally indefatigable; there was order in his writing, but there was no repose."--Leon Wieseltier

"Wieseltier . . . has chosen wisely . . . One can recommend this book as either an introduction to or a reminder of one of the few intelligent men of our time toward whose work . . . an intellectual obligation still exists."

—Richard Gilman, New York Times Book Review