What is the past - and what can we really know about it? This is the big question that 20th-century French historian Lucien Febvre works his way through in 1942's The Problem of Unbelief. Relying on his own innovative technique championing "problem-based history", Febvre focuses specifically on 16th-century French writer François Rabelais to answer one controversial question: Was Rabelais, as historians had always agreed, really one of his country's first atheists?
Febvre conducted thorough research on Rabelais himself and the times he lived in to challenge this accepted view. He studied the mind-sets of the day - what he dubbed "mentalities" - and came to the radical conclusion that Rabelais was not - indeed could not be - a nonbeliever. Why? Because it would have been impossible for a man to conceive of a world without God at that time and in that place.
Febvre's view of 16th-century religious attitudes remains controversial to this day, but the groundbreaking techniques he introduced while writing his history changed the discipline forever.