Books in Brief

The Life of Louis XVI, by John Hardman (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 499 pp., $29.00).  This sympathetic, indeed deeply moving, biography of the ill-fated king  is dramatic and mostly well written, save in certain instances where I found the presentation of particular events (such as the controversy at the immediate start of Louis XVI’s reign regarding the Parlement Maupeou and the old one, which the 20-year-old king resolved with consequences ultimately fatal to the Ancien Régime and to himself) unclear.  Hardman, the author of Louis XVI, first published in 1993, has drawn for the present volume upon much new material, including Louis’s correspondence with Vergennes, his foreign minister during the American Revolution, and others of his letters written before the French revolt.  Louis had real expertise in foreign policy and a firm and sophisticated grasp of finance.  Far from being the lazy, unintelligent fop of popular history, the king, as Hardman shows, was a conscientious and hardworking monarch, whose indecisive streak was often attributable to his ability to see and to grasp too many aspects of a complicated situation, and a sense of fatality in facing them owing to his intuition and gift of historical foresight.  Hardman claims that Louis was probably the best-read of all the French kings, a dévot...

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