Alexis de Tocqueville (Magill's Literary Annual 2008)
Arthur Balfour, the British prime minister at the beginning of the twentieth century, is said to have remarked that biographies are best written by an acute enemy. If this were so, Hugh Brogan’s new book, Alexis de Tocqueville: A Life, would be an excellent biography because, if not an enemy to Tocqueville, Brogan certainly comes across as at least an extremely critical friend.
Brogan’s negative attitude to his subject does not emerge immediately, for the opening pages of the biography deal more with Tocqueville’s ancestors than with Tocqueville himself. Even when Brogan begins discussing Tocqueville, he seems at least neutral in his description of Tocqueville’s early days. Also, Brogan has an easy, perhaps too easy, prose style, veering into the colloquial at times and even sounding somewhat patronizing. Nevertheless, it is mostly a clear style, and Brogan brings forth a mountain of information, including some interesting anecdotes about Tocqueville’s youth. For instance, there is his tutor, the Abbé Louis Le Sueur, predicting that Tocqueville will become “an enlightened judge or a distinguished orator or a celebrated diplomat” and becoming very upset when Tocqueville, under the influence of his cousin Louis de Kergorlay, talks of pursuing a military career: “What a shame it would be,” said the abbé, “to snuff out such a talent under a helmet.”
Tocqueville did not go into the army, but he did become an orator...
(The entire section is 1922 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2008)
Booklist 103, no. 14 (March 15, 2007): 7.
The Economist 381 (November 25, 2006): 85-86.
Globe and Mail, April 21, 2007, p. D9.
London Review of Books 29, no. 6 (March 22, 2007): 29-30.
The New York Review of Books 54, no. 18 (November 22, 2007): 53-56.
The Times Literary Supplement, February 23, 2007, pp. 4-6.
The Wall Street Journal 249, no. 73 (March 29, 2007): D9.
The Washington Post, April 1, 2007, p. BW02.
(The entire section is 49 words.)