ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Last Polymath

Benedict Anderson as Scholar and Human Being

Benedict Anderson was among the most influential intellectuals of our times. His seminal book Imagined Communities has changed the way the world understands nationalism and the nation state. Its influence permeates across disciplines and beyond the academia. Yet, Imagined Communities was only one part, even if the most visible, of Anderson's intellectual travels and engagements. A personal account of Anderson--the scholar, the traveller and the raconteur.

Benedict Anderson, who died in the second week of December 2015, aged 79, was the last of the great polymath social scientists. He was at once a political scientist, historian, sociologist, literary theorist, and biographer. He was also formidably multilingual, knowing half a dozen European languages and some four or five Asian languages too.

In the range of his learning, in his ability to so effortlessly transcend disciplinary, temporal, and geographical boundaries, Benedict Anderson had only two peers: Ernest Gellner (1925–95) and Eric Hobsbawm (1917–2012). Gellner and Hobsbawm were European Jews forced to emigrate to England in the wake of the rise of the Nazis. Anderson was born in the Chinese city of Kunming, the son of an Irish customs official. The family later moved to California, and then to Ireland.

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