How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People
Allen Lane, $49.99 hb, 442 pp, 9781846146022
Have the French thought themselves to death? This is the question that Sudhir Hazareesingh poses in this erudite and stimulating book. His concluding chapter is a piece of diplomatic fence-sitting, but, notwithstanding the claim of the subtitle's affection, much of the analysis points to a national culture in terminal decline, inward-looking, nostalgic for past glories, anxious for its future, and stuck with entrenched thinking patterns that no longer offer purchase on innovation or renewal.
A self-confessed Francophile of Mauritian background, Hazareesingh divides his time between Paris and Oxford, and has authored prize-winning books on two of the grandes figures of modern France – Napoleon and de Gaulle. His new project is a sweeping four-century history of the thinkers and ideas that he argues have given France its distinctiveness and have underpinned its (now much diminished) prestige and influence in world affairs.