In 1831, at the age of 25, Alexis de Tocqueville made his fateful journey to America, where he observed the thrilling reality of a functioning democracy. From that moment onward, the French aristocrat would dedicate his life as a writer and politician to ending despotism in his country and bringing it into a new age. In this biography, Olivier Zunz tells the story of a radical thinker who, uniquely charged by the events of his time, both in America and France, used the world as a laboratory for his political ideas.
Informative ... Zunz explains what Tocqueville learned — and what he failed to notice — during his travels throughout the United States ... Zunz's analysis of Democracy in America hews closely to conventional wisdom ... Zunz also provides a splendid account of Tocqueville's career as a practical politician in France ... Zunz also provides a splendid account of Tocqueville's career as a practical politician in France.
Olivier Zunz offers many details...and wastes none of them ... While Zunz clearly admires Tocqueville, he does not shy away from his subject’s impassioned imperialism ... The real scaffolding of the biography, for all its telling vignettes and historical context, is Tocqueville’s thought, above all Democracy in America.
An exhaustively researched and discretely focused biography of the great Frenchman ... Mr. Zunz’s biography situates Tocqueville’s great treatise in its French context ... Mr. Zunz, for reasons that escape me, avoids broader interpretations of Tocqueville’s life and work. Some readers will prefer this narrowly factual approach. I do not ... Mr. Zunz also declines for the most part to engage with Tocqueville’s ideas beyond accurately rendering them and occasionally pointing out oversights. This is a biography, not an argument. But anybody who publishes a full-length treatment of Tocqueville...bears some obligation to connect the man’s ideas to the present ... I may be wrong about the reasons for Mr. Zunz’s reticence, but about this I am pretty sure: The people who would profit most from the man who understood democracy think they already understand it.