Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People' by Sudhir Hazareesingh

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.

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Published in April 2016, no. 380

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