As the son of a noble family which was nearly wiped out in the Revolution and as an ambitious politician during the July Monarchy and the Second Republic, Alexis de Tocqueville had a front seat at the revolutionary drama of his time. In 1831 Tocqueville made the famous voyage to the United States which led to his masterpiece, Democracy in America, one of the most vital works in the history of democratic thought.
'One of the delights of this remarkable biography is to let its readers see the past as if it were the present, through the eyes of civilised Frenchmen like Tocqueville ... A biography as humane, learned, humorous and perceptive as this extends our knowledge of ourselves and where we came from, as well as painting an incomparable portrait of one of the sharpest and most sympathetic writers of all time' Hilary Spurling, Observer
A magisterial book by an eminent scholar of both European and American history, this will stand as the standard biography of Tocqueville for years to come.
This magisterial biography, selected by the Economist on its U.K. publication as one of the best 100 books of 2006, serves up all the interesting personal details (constant health struggles, an unsuitable marriage to a woman of lesser means) in the life of Tocqueville (1805 1859), the man who most influenced America and its self-perception. But the heart of the book is Tocqueville's travels in the United States and the writing of Democracy in America. Tocqueville both appreciated, and was discomfited by, American egalitarianism. Raised in a Catholic environment, the French aristocrat "could not see the logic" of Protestantism. (His visit to a Shaker settlement was especially unnerving.) British historian Brogan is not uncritical: he notes that Tocqueville never understood that democracy relies "principally on elections to control majorities," rather than on a system of legislative and judicial checks and balances. Brogan's greatest contribution may be his reading of the second volume of Democracy in America as autobiography, arguing that Tocqueville wrote it in part to justify his own break with the expectations of his elite family and social circle. All in all, this is an engrossing and erudite account. 16 b&w illus.