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The Lives of Talleyrand Paperback – January 17, 1963
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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.
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.