An impressive, comprehensive biography of the Sun King—a must-add to any Francophile’s library.

A wonderfully meticulous look at Louis XIV (1638-1715) from a leading historian of France.

“Even by royal standards,” writes Mansel (Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Greatest Merchant City, 2016, etc.), “the family into which the future Louis XIV was born…was a nest of vipers.” He ascended to the throne at age 4, and during more than three decades of the king’s 72-year reign, France was at war. Louis nurtured a lifelong fascination with the army and fighting as well as dancing. After the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, Jean-Baptiste Colbert became Louis’ minister and proved to be one of the ablest in the history of France. He economized, kept accurate accounts, reformed taxes, and introduced a new code of law while expanding trade and France’s colonies. “Louis was a man in pursuit of glory,” writes the author, “a king devoted to dynastic aggrandizement and a leader bent on national expansion.” He introduced a postal system, street lights, and boulevards. His finest creation, of course, was Versailles, to which Mansel, who displays an expansive knowledge of French history, devotes significant attention. Louis controlled every aspect of construction and effectively deserted Paris in its favor. He was famously a micromanager, particularly in wartime, though he lacked the talent of diplomacy and often listened to poor advice. France was involved in wars on all sides, fighting to expand her borders at the Rhine, drawing away imperial forces from the Ottomans, invading the Netherlands, and trying to infiltrate the Spanish throne. Louis also fiddled in English politics, accepting James II in exile and supporting invasions. He used the Stuarts to try to break up Scotland, Ireland, and England and forestall his nemesis, William of Orange. Louis’ revocation of the Edict of Nantes brought about a devastating diaspora, which was only slightly offset by the influx of Jacobites into France. Throughout, the narrative is dense but readable, and the 110-page notes and bibliography section attests to Mansel’s prodigious research.

An impressive, comprehensive biography of the Sun King—a must-add to any Francophile’s library.

Pub Date: March 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-226-69089-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview