Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 566 pages
5 Reviews
The extraordinary life of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the eighteenth-century literary genius who changed the course of history, traced with novelistic verve.

Motherless child, failed apprentice, autodidact, impossibly odd lover, Jean-Jacques Rousseau burst unexpectedly onto the eighteenth-century scene as a literary provocateur whose works electrified readers from the start. Rousseau’s impact on American social and political thought remains deep, wide, and, to some, even infuriating.

Leo Damrosch beautifully mines Rousseau’s books--The Social Contract, one of the greatest works on political theory and a direct influence on the French and American revolutions; Emile, a groundbreaking treatise on education; and the Confessions, which created the genre of introspective autobiography--as works still uncannily alive and provocative to us today.

Damrosch’s triumph is to integrate the story of Rousseau’s extraordinarily original writings with the tumultuous life that produced them. Rousseau’s own words and those of people who knew him help create an accessible, vivid portrait of a questing man whose strangeness--as punishing and punished lover, difficult friend, and father who famously consigned his infant children to a foundling home--still fascinates. This, the first single-volume biography of Rousseau in English, is as masterfully written as it is definitive.

Leo Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University. He has written widely on eighteenth-century writers.



Praise for Jean-Jacques Rousseau

"Leo Damrosch's vivid biography enables us to plunge deeply into Rousseau's singular life, conjure up its crucial encounters, retrace its twisting paths, and supplement Rousseau's own claims about himself with the detailed, often contradictory testimony of the contemporaries he so unsettled and inspired." -- Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

"These pages bring to life the Europe of the ancien regime, a desiccated, sybaritic, superstitious, oppressive world about to be terribly and fatally convulsed. And they also bring to astonishing life a great agent of that convulsion, an impossible man whose books helped to make modern life possible. Leo Damrosch not only helps us understand Rousseau, his loves and his hates, his genius and his foolishness. He makes us see Rousseau. And, as he shows again and again in this immensely enjoyable and fast-paced story, that is Rousseau’s special and permanent fascination--because when we see him, we are seeing ourselves."-- Louis Menand, author of The Metaphysical Club and American Studies
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - asukamaxwell - LibraryThing

Excellent biographical style, haven't read a biography this, well, "readable" since Dumas Malone's Thomas Jefferson. Sadly though, despite the great efforts by the author, Rousseau as a person just is ... Read full review

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU: Restless Genius

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Thoroughgoing life of the often disagreeable, uncharismatic and world-transformative philosopher, he of "Mankind is born free and is everywhere in chains" renown.The French edition of Jean-Jacques ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

The Loneliness of a Gifted Child
7
The End of Innocence
25
I Desired a Happiness of Which I Had No Idea
43
Rousseau Finds a Mother
69
A Year of Wandering
88
In Mamans House
104
The Idyll of Les Charmettes
125
Broadening Horizons Lyon and Paris
149
An Affair of the Heart
256
The Break with the Enlightenment
284
Peace at Last and the Triumph of Julie
306
Rousseau the Controversialist Émile and The Social Contract
331
Exile in the Mountains
362
Another Expulsion
388
In a Strange Land
403
The Past Relived
434

The Masks of Venice
168
A Life Partner and a Guilty Secret
184
A Writers Apprenticeship
196
The Beginnings of Fame
211
Rousseaus Originality
234
Lionized in Geneva Alienated in Paris
244
Into the SelfMade Labyrinth
447
The Final Years in Paris
464
Timeline of Rousseaus Life
495
Notes
499
Index
550
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About the author (2007)

LEO DAMROSCH was awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim fellowships, among other honors. Currently the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of literature at Harvard University, he has written widely on eighteenth-century writers. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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