Ernest Gellner (1925-95) was one of the last great thinkers from Central Europe to be condemned by his Jewish background to experience the worst horrors of the twentieth century. He was a multilingual polymath, able to set the agenda in the study of nationalism and the sociology of Islam. His intellectual trajectory differed from that of similar thinkers both in producing a highly integrated philosophy of modernity and in combining a respect for nationalism with an appreciation of the power of modern science. In this definitive biography, particular attention is paid to his Prague roots, and to debates with Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, Charles Taylor, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and many others.
John A. Hall is the James McGill Professor of Comparative Historical Sociology at McGill University in Montreal. His previous books include Powers and Liberties, Liberalism, Coercion and Consent, International Orders, and (with Charles Lindholm) Is America Breaking Apart? He taught at the Central European University in the early 1990s, when Gellner had returned to Prague, and gained an appreciation at that time of his background in Central Europe.