In Louis XIV: The Power and the Glory, Josephine Wilkinson, an independent scholar, has written an agreeable and generally admiring biography. She covers war and politics efficiently, but this is very much a personal biography. The king’s ministers receive less attention than his mistresses. Yet Louis was no playboy monarch, as Ms. Wilkinson makes clear ... Ms. Wilkinson has little new to say about Louis’s wars and foreign policy, but as a portrait of the king and a story of his private life her chronicle is as entertaining as it is sensible and generous. It compares well with Nancy Mitford’s biographies of Louis XIV and Madame de Pompadour. Ms. Wilkinson may not be quite as witty as Mitford, but her understanding of her subject and feeling for her hero are every bit as satisfying.
In this book, the personal overwhelms the political. Wars and diplomatic events are the sideshows to court intrigue, Louis’s sexual dalliances, gossip, the petty rivalries among of the men and women of the king’s entourage, and lavish entertaining ... There are some useful passages devoted to key ministers such as Mazarin and Colbert. Wilkinson notes the increasing costs of Louis’ wars and the consequent effects on the French people. Again, it’s not that Wilkinson ignores key historical events, but her emphasis throughout the book on the personal Louis obscures the reasons why biographies of the Sun King are so important ... It is perhaps fitting that she concludes her biography with the chronology and details of Louis’s last days and death without offering reflections on his rule and its importance to French and European history.
Wilkinson well describes Louis’ love life, his peripatetic infatuations and longer-term affairs that made for court intrigues ... Wilkinson’s attention to detail and her ability to create individual personalities of the seemingly endless parade of Louis’ courtiers mark this as a thorough political and cultural account of a long and complicated reign.