Resuming chronologically from the subject of his previous biography (Cardinal Richelieu and the Making of France, 2000), Levi probes the Sun King's psychology--though fear not, he is no speculative psychobiographer. Deeply steeped in the world of seventeenth-century France, the author adheres to sources, always alluding to their partiality or incompleteness, and brings forth Louis XIV's personality. Levi sees him as a man of inner conflict, torn between normal insecurities and an externalized and prodigal pursuit of grandeur. For starters, his father was probably not, Levi argues, Louis XIII, but rather Cardinal Mazarin, the real power during Louis' minority. A habit of dissembling arose from that secret, while Louis' absolutist propensities might have been encouraged by the disorders of the Fronde, the civil war that broke out when he was 10. Also judging Louis to be cruel and brutal (referencing much detail about the Versailles court to make that case), Levi's portrait is critical but incisive, one that readers drawn to French history will not want to miss. Gilbert Taylor
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Louis XIV was one of the most successful monarchs of all time, whose manufacturing industries and scientific and artistic advancements were the envy of the world, but they were supported by a vast war machine whose undisguised aim was hegemony over the entire European continent and its colonies overseas. Louis's famous personal motto, 'the state is me', expressed a dictatorial philosophy which deviated from the rule of law. Second only to God, and the head of an immensely powerful state, Louis XIV was an institution rather than a private individual. At the heart of this lucid and continually absorbing biography lies the story of the clash between his role as le Roi Soleil and his guilt as a human being at the effect of his reign on France and its people.
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