[This work] is informed and highly readable; it is studded with vignettes of the leading figures; it is replete with facts spread widely over the many aspects of human endeavor; it is eloquently partisan for the dignity of man and the decencies of life.
The Age of Louis XIV: A History of European Civilization in the Period of Pascal, Molière, Cromwell, Milton, Peter the Great, Newton, and Spinoza, 1648–1715 is the biography of a period that Spengler considered the apex of modern European civilization. “Some centuries hence,” Frederick the Great correctly predicted to Voltaire, “they will translate the good authors of the age of Pericles and Augustus.” Those authors are lovingly treated here: Pascal, Racine, and Boileau, Madame de Sévigné, Madame de la Fayette, and above all the philosopher-dramatist Molière, who so memorably exposed the vices and hypocrisies of the age.
Central to the book is the “Sun King” himself, Louis XIV. Louis XIV ruled France for over seventy years, longer than almost any European ruler in history. He is the subject of a character study that runs through seven chapters, revealing the flesh and blood beneath the purple and the crown.
From France the narrative passes to the Netherlands, and after pausing to examine the domestic idylls of Vermeer, shows the Dutch opening their dikes to save their land from Louis XIV and sending William of Orange to become king of England and a leader of the European alliance against Louis’ hegemony.
In England we contemplate the heyday of virtue under the Puritans and study the strange character of Cromwell. We see Milton’s passionate career as part of the vain effort to prevent the Stuart Restoration. We find Charles II, the “Merry Monarch,” with more manners than morals, attend boisterous Restoration plays; we skim the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys; and we follow Jonathan Swift from genius to insanity.
Crossing the North Sea we trace the tragic heroism of Charles XII of Sweden and the attempt of Peter the Great to lead Russia from barbarism to civilization. We accompany the noble Sobieski of Poland as he rescues Vienna from the Turks. We visit Italy and Spain. We see the Jews proscribed and impoverished in Europe but rising to riches in Amsterdam and following Sabbatai Zevi in a desperate hope of regaining Palestine and freedom.
All this forms the background for the “intellectual adventure” of the European mind in its passage from superstition, mythology, and intolerance to education, science, and philosophy, for this was the age when Newton and Leibniz gave simultaneous birth to calculus, when Newton bound the planets and the stars with a chain of universal gravitation. –downpour.com