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Theodore Zeldin, 13 June 1991

Dead Certainties 
by Simon Schama.
Granta, 334 pp., £15.99, May 1991, 0 14 014230 4
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... Are you a satisfied man?’ ‘I am certainly not that,’ replies Simon Schama. But he is the opposite of a revolutionary. Even when he complains, his criticisms are carefully padded, as though in boxing-gloves, so that they do not hurt. Perhaps these days no one can admit to being satisfied. On the other hand, he is the Mellon Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard and he has just published a work of fiction ...


Theodore Zeldin: On the Subject of Happiness, 13 October 1988

... I have just published a work of fiction, Happiness.* I did not plan this voyage of the imagination in my spare time, as a jaunt to distract me from more serious labours. It is the culmination of all I have done and written. I could not go on accumulating learning for ever: I would never have enough. So I have spent most of the years since my last book thinking: I withdrew into long periods of silence ...

Beyond the ‘New History’

Theodore Zeldin, 16 March 1989

The Identity of France. Vol I: History and Environment 
by Fernand Braudel, translated by Sian Reynolds.
Collins, 432 pp., £20, December 1988, 0 00 217773 0
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... Shortly before his death, I talked to Braudel about the motives that lay behind his final book, The Identity of France. He had made his reputation as a universal historian, with a global curiosity. Why should he seek to crown his achievement in such a parochial fashion, proclaiming that it was France, after all, that he really loved? ‘I am a Frenchman, just like any other,’ he said ...

Stratagems of Ignorance

Theodore Zeldin, 5 January 1989

The Superstitious Mind 
by Judith Devlin.
Yale, 316 pp., £22.50, March 1987, 0 300 03710 4
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... Many years ago, in the course of the oral examination of my doctoral degree, a criticism was made of my thesis. ‘You have not mentioned the Programme of Nancy,’ said the illustrious professor. I replied: ‘What is the Programme of Nancy?’ Embarrassed, he confessed he did not know. He turned to the other examiner, who also did not know. Were they frauds? I have always felt that history has been both unjust and too kind to the Don’t Knows ...


Theodore Zeldin, 26 October 1989

Pan Encyclopedia 
edited by Judith Hannam.
Pan, 608 pp., £8.99, August 1989, 9780330309202
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Longman Encyclopedia 
edited by Asa Briggs.
Longman, 1179 pp., £24.95, September 1989, 0 582 91620 8
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International Encyclopedia of Communications: Vols I-IV 
edited by Erik Barnouw.
Oxford, 1913 pp., £250, April 1989, 0 19 504994 2
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The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives 
edited by Francis Robinson.
Cambridge, 520 pp., £30, September 1989, 0 521 33451 9
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Concise Encyclopedia of Islam 
by Cyril Glass.
Stacey International, 472 pp., £35, February 1989, 0 905743 52 0
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The World’s Religions 
by Ninian Smart.
Cambridge, 576 pp., £25, March 1989, 0 521 34005 5
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The New Physics 
edited by Paul Davies.
Cambridge, 516 pp., £30, March 1989, 0 521 30420 2
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The Middle Ages: A Concise Encyclopedia 
by H.R. Loyn.
Thames and Hudson, 352 pp., £24, May 1989, 0 500 25103 7
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China in World History 
by S.A.M. Adshead.
Macmillan, 432 pp., £35, June 1988, 0 333 43405 6
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... Why does every home not have a whole wall of encyclopedias, now that we supposedly live in the Information Age? Why have they failed to establish themselves as indispensable items of furniture, against the competition of electronic gadgetry? Because they are contenting themselves with just giving information, instead of sharpening it, so that it points somewhere ...

Love and Crime

Theodore Zeldin, 6 March 1980

Recollections and Reflections of a Country Policeman 
by W.C. May.
A.H. Stockwell (Ilfracombe), 342 pp., £6.60, July 1979, 0 7223 1199 0
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The Police in Society 
by Ben Whitaker.
Eyre Methuen, 351 pp., £6.95, March 1979, 9780413342003
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... Modern imaginative literature has two favourite themes: love and crime. Most people accept that love is a mystery full of twists and surprises that are not predictable by science or reason. It is natural that its infinite variations should be probed most interestingly by novelists rather than by experts and statisticians: no one has dared set up a Chair of Amorology ...

President François Misprint

Richard Mayne, 1 April 1983

The Wheat and the Chaff: The Personal Diaries of the President of France 1971-1978 
by François Mitterrand, translated by Richard Woodward, Helen Lane and Concilia Hayter.
Weidenfeld, 284 pp., £12.50, October 1982, 0 297 78101 4
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The French 
by Theodore Zeldin.
Collins, 542 pp., £12.95, January 1983, 0 00 216806 5
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... And in France, almost one in every six families has access to an actual résidence seeondaire. As Theodore Zeldin puts it, ‘a Frenchman’s second home is his castle.’ The quip is characteristic of Dr Zeldin’s brisk and knowledgeable canter round the characteristics of ‘the French’. His starting-point is ...

Flights from the Asylum

John Sutherland, 1 September 1988

Mother London 
by Michael Moorcock.
Secker, 496 pp., £9.95, June 1988, 0 436 28461 8
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The Comforts of Madness 
by Paul Sayer.
Constable, 128 pp., £9.95, July 1988, 0 09 468480 4
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Sweet Desserts 
by Lucy Ellmann.
Virago, 154 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 9780860688471
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by Theodore Zeldin.
Collins Harvill, 320 pp., £11.95, September 1988, 0 00 271302 0
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... Plath’s Bell Jar, to publish the work (at least initially) under a pseudonym. The review copy of Theodore Zeldin’s first novel is accompanied by a separately-printed 2,000-word statement by the author, entitled ‘How I came to write Happiness’. This preface is evidently for the eyes of the reviewer only. It is, I think, a pity that ...


Arthur Marwick: On Beauty, 21 February 1985

... the highest beauty and thus – something of the sort was suggested in a few bare sentences by Theodore Zeldin in the second volume of France 1848-1945 – some fashion becomes a substitute for beauty. Fashion often imposes a hideous artificiality, on men and women alike, dragging even the most beautiful down to an unbecoming common denominator. This ...

World’s End

Robert Wohl, 21 May 1981

August 1914 The Proud Tower 
by Barbara Tuchman.
Papermac, 499 pp., £4.95, September 1980, 0 333 30516 7
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... and dwelling on the contradictions and complexities that make generalisation hazardous, as Theodore Zeldin was to do in his magisterial history of France, Tuchman wavered uncertainly between a vision of the period as comfortable and secure and a countervision that sees it wracked by anxieties and fears. Apparently, it never occurred to her that ...

Nation-States and National Identity

Perry Anderson, 9 May 1991

The Identity of France. Vol. II: People and Production 
by Fernand Braudel, translated by Sian Reynolds.
Collins, 781 pp., £25, December 1990, 0 00 217774 9
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... The logic of this change has recently been taken to its conclusion by at least one historian, Theodore Zeldin. A tart critic of Braudel’s enterprise in the pages of the London Review of Books, his own study of The French disavows any notion of national or individual coherence at all, on the grounds that people are becoming more different from ...


Perry Anderson: The Fall of France, 2 September 2004

La France qui tombe 
by Nicolas Baverez.
Perrin, 134 pp., €5.50, January 2004, 2 262 02163 5
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La Face cachée du ‘Monde’: Du contre-pouvoir aux abus de pouvoir 
by Pierre Péan and Philippe Cohen.
Mille et Une Nuits, 631 pp., €24, February 2003, 2 84205 756 2
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... It is striking that the two best-known recent English historians of France, Richard Cobb and Theodore Zeldin, have taken the national penchant for the whimsical and eccentric to extremes, as if so defeated by their subject they had to fall back, in compensation, on a parodic exhibition of French images of Anglicity, as so many historiographic Major ...

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