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Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon Paperback – 1 Oct 2000
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To be plain: The book barely touches the substance of Bacon's thinking about science or philosophy, which is what we tend to remember about Bacon (as he evidently would have wished), and something that I had anticipated learning more about. For this, look to other treatments or directly to Bacon's writing. Nor is this a general biography of the contemporary sort that analyzes Bacon psychologically, delving into his psyche or social factors shaping him as a child or adult. Rather, this is a thoroughly researched and well-written description of Bacon's political life, fascinating in its detail, and casting much indirect light on the social and political times and many prominent political players. Understand that this light is narrowly focused: Although this is the hay-day not only of Shakespeare but other exceptional literary and historical figures, and of grand events (e.g. the Spanish Armada), most go essentially unmentioned or only provide a context for the ins-and-outs of Bacon's political fortunes. This narrow focus undoubtedly will make the book uninteresting to many general readers, as well as those looking for a broader biographical or social history.
This all being said, Jardine and co-author, Alan Stewart, provide a richly detailed examination of an exceptional political life, as led by a morally complex player in his times, a man of great intelligence, as well as many failings. Ultimately, I not only respected the book for its acute historiography, but was hooked by the authors' well-told tale of Bacon's extraordinary career in the politics and society of his day. Unlike some readers, I was rarely bored, and I think I have a much better appreciation of the man and the political world in which he lived.