Still: a novel approach to the study of 18th-century French history.



Sure, the Sun King was a putz. But did things have to end so badly for the French monarchy?

Perhaps not, writes Jones (History/Univ. of Warwick) in this ambitious, overstuffed examination of France’s 18th-century political elite and the tangled process of statecraft. The revolution of 1789 was by no means inevitable, Jones writes contra generations of Marxist historians; taking the long view, Jones suggests that the “revival of political history” in the profession allows a kind of “flattening-out” of the century and even a de-emphasizing of the centrality of that revolution in the great narrative of Western history. Jones assesses the comparative strengths of France at the time—when, he reckons, perhaps one in every six Europeans was French and much of Europe’s economy was governed by the nation—and then ticks off, one by one, the many accreted missteps and errors in judgment that squandered that strength, from the enormous cost of building fabulous palaces to the failure of France to maintain a credible North American empire or “to show the flag in the New World in any meaningful way.” The time saw an intense concentration of power in the hands of the monarchy: Louis XIV insisted on ruling without ministers and in his own name, for instance, which, Jones writes, made the “rhetorical ploy of ‘rescuing’ the ruler from ‘evil’ ministers difficult to sustain.” The lessening of the powers of the nobility that followed formed an imbalance that would affect French politics up to and during the time of the Revolution, weakening civil government, and paving the way for Napoleon’s rightist coup, at which point it was impossible for the government to “gauge the extent of popular discontent because it had destroyed most channels of independent expression,” a recipe for bad times indeed. Throughout thickets of data and quotation, Jones is lucid and even entertaining, though he is fond of some curious turns of phrase (remarking here that “it would prove extremely difficult to wash the Sun King out of the French nation’s hair,” there that the Enlightenment was a “sociological boom-box”) that may make some readers despair.

Still: a novel approach to the study of 18th-century French history.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-231-12882-7

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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