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The Young Descartes: Nobility, Rumor, and War Hardcover – 24 Apr 2018

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (24 April 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 022646296X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226462967
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,225,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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"Anyone who starts reading will quickly be drawn into the life of a young and intriguing French noble who only gradually found his way to becoming the Descartes later generations know, love, or sometimes hate. This is a fascinating study of the personal, social, and political complications of living in early seventeenth-century Europe, just as the modern nation-state was starting to form."--Dennis L. Sepper, University of Dallas

"Cook does a very fine job of weaving Descartes into the complex world of seventeenth-century Europe: its politics and especially its military campaigns. He's written a book that--provocatively and compellingly--seats intellectual history in the real world and helps make Descartes into a real human being."--Russell Shorto, author of Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason

"The Young Descartes is an engaging and intriguing work. Harold Cook follows René Descartes through the political minefields of the French court, riven by the rivalry between Marie de Medici and her son, Louis XIII, and his eminence grise, the formidable Cardinal Richelieu, and over the dangerous intellectual terrain of the seventeenth century, into a world that is rich while also complex, contested, and often veiled by caution or secrecy. This book makes central the fact that Descartes, frequently relegated to the status of arm-chair philosopher, actually traveled widely, indeed, almost incessantly for crucial periods of his life, and asks important questions about where he traveled and to what ends."--Kathleen Wellman, Southern Methodist University

"Cook is right to emphasise that what we do know implies that we cannot write about Descartes's life as solely one of the mind. Clearly he had prolonged aspirations to be a gentleman soldier, aspirations that any biographer must take seriously and place in the context of European military life in this period. Cook does just that, and the best parts of his book give a fascinating insight into this world."--Literary Review

"Cook's account . . . presents the young Descartes as a mysterious and peripatetic soldier of fortune, possibly an associate of the scandalous libertine freethinkers, who was peripherally involved in the events that defined early-17th-century France. As a corollary to Descartes's story, Cook provides a detailed primer on the complicated history of the period, which featured shifting and dangerous court rivalries; the brutal consolidation of power by the infamous Cardinal Richelieu, a probable enemy of Descartes's; and the clash between French Protestants and the dominant Catholics."--Publishers Weekly

"Cook wants to shake up our image of Descartes, to turn our attention from the familiar and to get us to think more deeply about just who this Frenchman who spent most of his adult life in the Netherlands really was and why he engaged in the projects he did. . . . As a skilled historian, Cook brings a good deal of archival and other material to bear on the matter. The cast of characters in his chronologically limited and relatively short narrative is impressive. Right or wrong, if Harold Cook's reading succeeds in drawing our attention beyond the theses and arguments of Descartes's treatises to their historical contexts and his personal engagements, then it will force us to reconsider once again just who this great thinker really was."--Times Literary Supplement

"Philosophers tend to ignore Descartes's early years and focus instead on his final two decades, during which he wrote and published his famous works. In fact, not a great deal is known about those early years. Cook (history, Brown Univ.) sets out to reconstruct the life of the young Descartes by following what he calls hints and clues in Adrien Baillet's La vie de monsieur Descartes (1691) and correlating Descartes's whereabouts with the major events of his day. The resulting portrait is of a man who, as Cook writes at the beginning of part 1 ("Mysteries"), "could have walked straight out of the pages of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers." Though the book is admittedly speculative, there is considerable plausibility to Cook's account, even if it is not always persuasive, and the book provides a helpful picture of the social and political world in which Descartes lived. Cook's conclusion that Descartes left Paris for the Netherlands in 1629 not to find the solitude necessary to complete his philosophical writings but to flee from Richelieu is intriguing, and the book should inspire--or provoke--many future studies. Cook includes a time line of events, but the book would have benefited from a bibliography to accompany the 35 pages of notes. Recommended."--Choice

About the Author

Harold J. Cook is John F. Nickoll Professor of History at Brown University. He is author of several books on the early modern period, including Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age and Trials of an Ordinary Doctor: Joannes Groenevelt in Seventeenth-Century London.

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