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The Lives of Talleyrand Paperback – January 17, 1963

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Crane Brinton, Ph.D. graduated from Harvard and attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Among his many books are Ideas and Men, The Anatomy of a Revolution, The Shaping of the Modern Mind, and A History of Civilization.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 17, 1963)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393001881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393001884
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on November 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Crane Brinton, a Professor of History at Harvard between 1943 and 1970, was among the first (the book was initially published in 1936) to attempt a postmodern examination of Talleyrand's role and influence in shaping the contours of France and Europe.
Professor Brinton frankly admired Talleyrand inspite of his lying, thieving, and machivellian schemes. Brinton argues that Talleyrand (like Mozart, Voltaire, Pope, Chardin, and Walpole) was part of a society too wise, too sober, too gifted with various skills, to mistake Word for Deed. In many way, Brinton's book is also a commentary on the idealistic failures of the Enlightenment and the "age of reason."
However, Brinton's book is primarily a study of the character and actions of the man who so profoundly influenced the destiny of the French Revolution and helped shape the contours of Europe as well. The requiste historical background is of course given, but it is the many-faceted personality of Talleyrand which the author has made it his task to portray --- and he has done so with discrimination and wit.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it has become a permanent fixture in my library.
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Format: Paperback
This is a really interesting study of the most complex and controversial of historical figures - as readable as Duff Cooper's biography, and far better than Robin Harris's dull but worthy Talleyrand; Betrayer and Saviour of France. (which, in spite of my great interest in the subject, I had to give up on after 100 pages due to the dull, clinical writing style). It's by no means strictly impartial - Crane Brinton believed that Talleyrand was, on the whole, "good" rather than "bad". But it sets Talleyrand in context, lays out his achievements, and makes a firm case that "Over the course of a long life he employed his technical skill so to help make France and Europe more agreeable places for sensible men to live in". It reminded me somewhat of Lacey Baldwin Smith's Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty.

It's written in a swift, witty and highly readable style and is full of amusing and incisive comments. The best was this, on Talleyrand's deathbed conversion: "Detailed descriptions of what went on at his bedside have been given by witnesses, and by many who were not witnesses. To Catholics it was an edifying spectacle, to neutrals a comedy, and to anti-clericals a farce, a Jesuit plot, a final mockery on the part of the man who had never believed in anything - not even in anti-clericalism." (p. 218). Another good one: "One-way principles may lead to Heaven or the scaffold - perhaps to Heaven by way of the scaffold - but not to diplomatic victories."

The only thing that slights marrs the books is the last two chapters, which aren't specifically about Talleyrand, but are more about the art of politics in general. They aren't quite boring, but are a bit of an anti-climax compared to the brilliance of what comes before.
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there are few readers, adn even fewer historians who have found talleyrand a sympathetic individual. Crane discusses the old rascal with understanding and appreciation, and nearly makes him look sympathetic--well, not sympathetic but comprehensible.
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A great book written with a sense of pomp and historical importance befitting Talleyrand. It is very self-indulgent, but not in a bad way. Talleyrand may have been the greatest diplomat of all time and his illustrious career serving regime after subsequent regime is thrilling. Crane paints a detailed portrait about Talleyrand and his historical setting.
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In my opinion, this book reveals the most important aspects of Talleyrand's life. He was the best French diplomatic of XVIII and XIX Centuries.
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