The idea of the French way of life has been an endless source of fascination. When we think of France we think of food and fashion, of intellect and taste, sociability and fierce national pride. What is behind these conceptions of the French? How did France become the country it is today, and what makes it exceptional?
Journalist and historian Peter Watson sets out to answer these questions in The French Mind, a dazzling cultural history of France that takes us from the 17th century to the present day through the nation’s most innovative and influential thinkers. He opens the doors to the Renaissance salons that acted as a breeding ground for poets, philosophers and scientists, and tells the extraordinary forgotten stories of the women who ran these vibrant and definitively French institutions, fostering a culture of intellectualism unmatched anywhere else in the word. On the way we witness the rise of café and restaurants, the changing relationship between the bourgeoisie and the French monarchy, and the bloody birth of a republic. From the French revolution to the country’s occupation by Nazi Germany, Watson argues that a series of devastating military defeats played a key role in shaping the resilient character of a nation, as well as its exceptionalism.
The French Mind is a history of breathtaking scope, propelled forward by the characters Watson brings to vivid life: the artists, revolutionaries and writers who loved, inspired and competed with one another over four hundred years. It documents the shaping of a nation whose global influence, in art and culture, politics and philosophy, cannot be overestimated.
Peter Watson is an intellectual historian, journalist, and the author of thirteen books, including Convergence; Ideas: A History; The Age of Atheists; The German Genius; The Medici Conspiracy; and The Great Divide. He has written for The Sunday Times, The New York Times, the Observer, and the Spectator. He lives in London.
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