Notice inside the parenthesis next to the title it says (20th century classics). That's because this work belongs to that rank. If a 'classic' is something akin to a great poem as Ezra Pound defined it, "News that stays new", then this work is a classic. Arendt must have been a great teacher as well as a thinker. These essays read like lectures: Lectures given by a caring professor who actually gives a damn about getting through to her audience. Yes, some Greek and Latin here and there, but with Arendt as your guide you cannot get lost if you pay attention. The subtitle of the book is Eight Exercises in Political Thought, and Arendt, in her grand style, deals with the big topics -Freedom, Authority, Power, Tradition - that ground everything else in civic life. The sheer pleasure to be had in encountering the density of her scholarship is found not only in her crystal clear prose, but also in her mastery of the foundational concepts and experience, Roman and Greek, that shape, willy-nilly, the warpature within the space of our civic and political discourse even today.
However, in her presentation of the trajectory of tradition, she also shows exactly where and how the displacement of tradition occurred. In the opening lines of her essay 'What is Authority?', she asks whether we ought not instead be asking 'What WAS Authority?', making clear from the get go that the notion of Authority has undergone an irreversible transformation since the Roman conception. And then she goes on to explain how that change occurred and in what way, with what chain of consequences. This book is noteworthy not only for its content and inimitable delivery, but also as a model of intellectual "exercise". The calmness, the steady architectural build-up of the argument, attention to philological detail when it's called for, all make up Arendt's generous style of writing and thinking. But that generosity is especially evident in this collection of essays. This is one of those rare books that, if read well, will actually make you more thoughtful. And smarter. Besides, you get to pick up some Greek and Latin for free.