Considering Rousseau's prominence and historical importance, it is surprising to discover that (according to the publisher) this is the first single-volume biography in English. Damrosch, a professor of literature at Harvard University, has succeeded in presenting an incisive, accessible and sensitive portrait of this unpleasant, infuriating "restless genius."Sometimes, indeed, perhaps a little too sensitive: Damrosch's admiration can prevent his strongly condemning where condemnation is due. Rousseau (1712–1778) was the man, we should recall, who consigned his own infants to a foundling home, who sent a miserably small sum of money to his ailing former patroness and who bought an adolescent girl for nefarious purposes. Where Damrosch truly excels is in not only masterfully explaining the originality and meaning of Émile, The Social Contract and the Confessions, but in relating those works to their author's conflicted, contradictory psyche. As Rousseau himself admitted, "I would rather be a man of paradoxes than a man of prejudices."Also, in vividly delineating the sage's final decade for the first time, Damrosch has performed a signal service: Maurice Cranston, who was writing a three-volume biography, died before completing the last part—thereby leaving readers in the dark as to Rousseau's fate. No longer. 43 b&w illus.
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*Starred Review* "An interesting madman" in the eyes of a contemporary critic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau tested the limits of all that his age considered sane. Indeed, Damrosch asserts that English-speaking readers need this new biography largely because Cranston's definitive three-volume work (1982, 1991, 1997) ignores the strong strain of eccentricity running throughout the life of this French genius. That eccentric strain, Damrosch shows, estranged Rousseau both from the defenders of the ancien regime and from the rising generation of freethinking philosophers. Readers, therefore, see the same man horrifying aristocrats with the secular and democratic principles of his Social Contract and infuriating Enlightenment progressives with the moral pieties of his Letter to D'Alembert. Damrosch acknowledges that Rousseau cleared the ground for the orthodoxies erected by Freud and Marx, but he adduces considerable evidence that Rousseau himself never lived by any consistent body of doctrines. A gifted Harvard scholar, Damrosch translates revealing excerpts from letters, memoirs, and (of course) the infamous Confessions to show just how often Rousseau's public writings reflected erratic private impulses and not the rigor of rational logic. It was these unpredictable and wavering impulses that made Rousseau the father of five children that he abandoned at foundling homes and the author of numerous books that he subsequently could not even understand and regretted having written. A compelling portrait of a vagrant titan. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
First and foremost, Damrosch worships Rousseau and it comes across in nearly every sentence. Yes he does refer to the serious issues that Rousseau suffered from, that I doubt that... Read morePublished 8 months ago by me
Even after being one of the most successful writers of his century, he could not afford to purchase his own home, apparently. No wonder the revolution was in the wind. Read morePublished 10 months ago by broadfork
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a Swiss philosopher of the Enlightenment, as well as a composer; Leo Damrosch is Professor of Literature at Harvard, as well as the author of... Read morePublished on January 25, 2013 by Steven H Propp
I immensely enjoyed this book, but, before getting into the reasons I liked it so much, I would like to make some critical points about the book, which might be a better guide in... Read morePublished on August 4, 2012 by David Milliern
Damrosch's biography of Rousseau is a fine piece of work--complete, readable and attentive to nuance and detail. Read morePublished on September 20, 2011 by Richard B. Schwartz
The author is an unabashed admirer, adorer and worshipper of JJ-Rousseau, which is a pity because he knows a lot about the man that he glosses or skips over because it doesn't fit... Read morePublished on February 2, 2011 by Lawrence Bohme
It took nearly 300 pages before I was persuaded that Prof. Damrosch's title of "Genius" was partially justified. Read morePublished on September 23, 2010 by Observer
This biography captures the curious development of J.J. Rousseau. It is far less successful explaining the importance or lack of importance of Rousseau's personal events and... Read morePublished on June 25, 2009 by Hans G. Despain
I selected this because of its National Book Award recognition. The winners and nominees I've read have all been good and this one did not disappoint. Read morePublished on May 9, 2009 by Loves the View