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

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

How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People

by Sudhir Hazareesingh

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.

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Published in April 2016, no. 380
Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, where he held the A.R. Chisholm Chair of French. He taught previously at the University of California (Berkeley) and Monash University. He has written extensively about twentieth-century and contemporary French literature, cinema, and cultural history, with special focus on the French experience of World War II. His most recent book is Dancing with de Beauvoir: Jazz and the French, published by Melbourne University Press in 2004. His essay ‘Kneecapper: a Trip to Happiness’ (published in the Autumn 2011 Meanjin Quarterly) was shortlisted for the 2010 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. He was awarded second prize in the 2012 Calibre Prize for ‘Now They’ve Gone’.