Talks With T. G. Masaryk

By Karel Čapek

Translated by Michael Henry Heim


"Talks with T. G. Masaryk is not ... your run-of-the-mill political autobiography; it's informal,
being an oral monologue, yet literary due to its shaping by novelist Karel Čapek. ...
As president of Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1935, Masaryk says he 'relinquished
nothing as head of state that I believe in and loved as a penniless student,
a teacher of youth, a nagging critic, and a political reformer.' If indeed that statement
is true, Masaryk surely must be the last democratically elected leader to have enjoyed such freedom.
—Chris Goodrich, Los Angeles Times Book Review


"Talks is a collaborative work that reflects the considerable talent
of both author and subject. ... the candor of Masaryk's account provides remarkable
insight into his views on Czech politics and his successes and mistakes as the leader
of an independence movement. Čapek's style, not to mention Michael Henry Heim's
talents as a translator, ensures that Talks is both engaging and insightful."
—Ian J. Brzezinski, Washington Times



"Masaryk based his politics on morality. Let us try in a new time
and in a new way to restore this concept of politics."
—Václav Havel


Never have two such important world figures collaborated in a biography: Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), the original Philosopher-President who founded Czechoslovakia in 1918, and Karel Čapek (1890-1938), the leading Czech writer of the time. Čapek interviewed Masaryk over a number of years and produced a single narrative that tells Masaryk's incredible story in a voice as ordinary yet magical as the best of Čapek's fictional characters. The result is a biographical work like no other, in form or in content.

It is the story of how a poor country boy, half Czech, half Slovak, got himself an education, married a girl from Brooklyn, became a philosophy professor, and grew increasingly controversial by defending a young Jew accused of ritual murder and by unmasking Czech historical sagas as forgeries. Woven through the narrative are Masaryk's thoughts about everything from nationalism and religion to education and America. He is one of the most fascinating human beings any of us will ever meet, even in books.

Masaryk's life and thoughts were the inspiration for Václav Havel and the Velvet Revolution. In fact, the first two stamps issued by the new government in 1989 were matching stamps of Masaryk and Čapek.

$13.95 paper, 256 pp., ISBN 0-945774-26-5.


Order from your local bookstore via Book Sense


Click here to read Karel Čapek's introduction to Talks with T. G. Masaryk, in PDF format.
And read the short excerpt below.


Excerpt from Talks With T. G. Masaryk


Yes, I'm a realist, as I've been told, but I have romantic tendencies as well. I see no contradiction in that. I was personally closest to the romantic poets: Macha, Pushkin, Musset, Byron.

When I chose realism and the scientific method, I had to restrain my romanticism, impose a certain mental discipline on myself. Just as I overcame my Slav anarchy by means of Anglo-Saxon models, I overcame the Plato in me with Locke, Hume, and the other empiricists. People seem not to understand that criticism, especially harsh criticism, is often a conflict between the impulsive Slovak and sober Czech. Humans are not simple beings. I have suffered from the fact that adversaries and followers alike have wished to make me into a one-sided type.

Take my notorious rationalism, for instance. If I want to teach and make my points, I've got to use reasonable arguments, for heaven's sake. But always and in everything, in scholarship and in politics, my motivating force has been ethical in nature, and ethics I base on feeling, love, sympathy, and humanity. If I was once a one-sided rationalist, it was due to a fault in my philosophical education. Circumstances have often forced me to criticize both the right and the left, but my criticism did not stem from rationalism, or certainly nor from rationalism alone. Logic and feelings are not mutually exclusive.


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