Tony Judt, one of the world's most prominent public intellectuals, has died at 62 in his home in Manhattan, it was announced today by New York University, where Judt had been a teacher for several decades.
The cause of death, which occurred Friday, was complications from amyotrophic lateral scerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Judt, perhaps best known for Postwar, an epic history of Europe after the Second World War published in 2005, was diagnosed with the terminal disease in late 2008; by October 2009 he was paralyzed from the neck down and able to breathe only by mechanical assistance.
However, throughout his illness, which Judt described as "progressive imprisonment without parole," the British-born author, essayist and lecturer continued to write and occasionally "speak" in public forums. For the last year he had been writing a regular series of often poignant memoirs for The New York Review of Books.
Earlier this year, he published Ill Fares the Land, a defence of the tenets of social democracy and a critique of the neo-conservatism embodied by the rise of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
In his teenage years, Judt was a passionate Zionist, spending several summers on a kibbutz in Israel and serving as national secretary for Dror, the Labor Zionist youth organization. During the Six-Day War in 1967, he volunteered as an auxiliary with the Israeli Defense Forces. Judt later became anti-Zionist and a controversial critic of Israel.
Returning to England, Judt studied history at King's College Cambridge, graduating in 1969. After studying for a year at the École Normale Superieure in Paris, he returned to Cambridge to complete a PhD in 1972.
By the mid-1980s he was living and teaching in the U.S.. In 1995 he helped found and became director of New York's Remarque Institute, dedicated to the study of Europe past and present.
Until 1993 Judt was known mostly among intellectuals and academics for his rather specialized work on French political and cultural life. But then he began to write for The New York Review of Books, perhaps North America's pre-eminent journal of left-liberal opinion, and his profile increased enormously.
Judt's style was distinguished by its fluidity and forcefulness and a broad, easily carried erudition. He told The Guardian earlier this year: "Today I am regarded outside [NYU]as a looney-tunes leftie self-hating Jewish communist. Inside the university I'm regarded as a typical old-fashioned white male liberal elitist."
Judt is survived by his third wife, Jennifer Homans, dance critic for The New Republic and a former professional dancer, and their two sons, Nicholas and Daniel.