For the last six months, I’ve been on a journey. A journey through time. Specifically, from 1715 to 1789 AD. This journey has chiefly focused on one man – Jean-Jacques Rousseau and one country – France, as they both hurl towards the French revolution of 1789. However, surprisingly, the journey also touched almost everything else – it covered hundreds of artists, writers, essayists, satirists, scientists, inventors, enterprises, kings, queens, books, pamphlets, lies, then-hidden truths, and ideas. It talked primarily of France, but framed its history by talking about every force outside of it, including Russia, the Turks, the many travails of Poland, and so many other factors that ultimately led to the revolution which shook the foundations of the Western World.
It also revealed to me how amazingly France participated in the formation of the United States of America, if only to spite the UK in doing so, and in the process destroyed it’s own wealth and legacy. But the silver lining shines through – that revolution led to so much democracy and pushed the ideas of the Rights of people to the fore.
France, it’s history, and consequently, this book, are not without faults. The widespread support for slavery both within and without, the absurd conflict between Catholics and Protestants, which still boggles me, the constant wars with England, are all part of the history of France. The somewhat uneven-handed remarks and accolades to everything European being the “best” and the “greatest in the world”, the unnecessary descriptions of the visages of the persons described, and the somewhat abrupt ending, with only allusions to the excesses of the revolution, are all the faults of the book.
But I cannot thank the authors enough for giving me a springboard to leap off of. I have some semblance of an idea of where to start my next reading from, even though it’ll be a while before I come back to anything regarding history. For now, I’ve got quite a lineup of audiobooks to work through, from Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary to a collection of short stories by amazing authors as Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Shelley. I think I’ll stay in the fiction lane for some time, till the call of history, philosophy, and the story of our civilization rises again.
Regarding the titular man – Rousseau – well, first of all, this book taught me how to write his name! It also told me of how terrible the person was in his personal life – how cruel to his own children (none of whom he raised himself or welcomed into his home), how callous towards his long time lover and wife, how immature and suspicious of his friends. But also, how brilliant in his writing, how influential in thought, and how deeply rooted our current world is in his ideas. Apparently, he affected everything from both our major systems of early childhood education – kindergarten and montessori, to innumerable philosophers, writers (Tolstoy, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Thoreau, Kant, Schopenhauer), and the Romantic movement. He even made it fashionable to climb mountains and explore the great outdoors in Europe as well as to have gardens that look more natural than manicured perfections. In an upcoming blog post, I argue that the writings matter, not the writer. As much as I’ve come to despise the man, this is true for Rousseau – he was an influential writer and thinker, even though he was a horrible little man.
Book timeline – Jul 22nd 2022 -> Jan 24th 2023
Format – audiobook
Length – 57 hours 22 minutes
Tonight’s iPhone wallpaper is the Pale Blue Dot, where everyone ever has lived and died, mostly unnoticed by the rest of the solar system, let alone the galaxy or the universe.