Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Splendid Century by W.H. Lewis

book cover
The Splendid Century
by W. H. Lewis

Hardcover: 306 pages
Publisher: William Sloane Associates
Released: 1953

Source: Bought at a used book sale.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Pleasures and palaces are, of course, a part of this vivid account of France under Louis XIV, but the author also explores the political, economic, social and artistic forces that developed during the long reign of the Sun-King.

The opening account of Louis XIV's private life and loves sets the pace for this provocative account of a century that was a time of transition, dissatisfaction and progress. This was the age of Moliere, Racine, Corneille...the age of the salons and the graceful correspondents. And also an age that sent thousands of Huguenots to the galleys, the notorious death ships that served as seventeenth-century concentration camps.

My Review:
The Splendid Century is a history covering various aspects of life in France during the reign of Louis XIV. The first chapter was mainly about the king's scandalous love life and grandiose beliefs about himself. The rest of the book talked about what life was like for everyone else.

The author researched records, correspondence, and journals to get the impressions of people living at that time. He discussed why Louis XIV set certain policies, how they worked out in reality, and you could see how this set things up for the people in later generations to decide they didn't need nobles and royalty at all.

The author talked about what life was like for nobles, especially those at court, and for commoners of all sorts. He covered the religious institutions and the religious conflicts, how the army had been organized and was re-organized, what life was like in the country and in the towns, how doctors were trained, how women were educated and how this changed, what life was like on galley ships and on passenger sailing ships, some of the court etiquette, and some well-known writers of the time.

No topic was covered in every detail, but he gave the reader a taste of what he thought was most interesting. I did not find every topic equally interesting, but I liked how he explained the impact of various actions and policies rather than simply giving facts. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in this period of French history if they don't mind the somewhat academic (e.g. "this is how the tax system worked") nature of parts of it.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

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