Thursday, September 27, 2018

Vive Napoleon (the third one)

This is an interesting encyclopedia about France under the “Second Empire”, the rule of Louis Bonaparte as “Emperor Napoleon III” from 1852 to 1870. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte usually gets all the bad rap, and unless I'm mistaken the famous Marx quote about history repeating itself as farce was a reference to the French emperor. The compilers of this volume, by contrast, seem to sympathize with Napoleon III, or at least try to be as objective as possible.

The encyclopedia deals with all aspects of French politics, culture and society during the Second Empire period. Thus, there are entries on authors such as Charles Baudelaire, Alexander Dumas fils, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. There are entries on French scientists, on Darwinism in France and on Positivism. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Henri Tolain and the First International are featured. Various Catholic affairs are also featured: Infallibility, “Syllabus of Errors”, Gallicanism, etc. Louis Bonaparte's literary endeavors are dissected, the contributors having a positive view of “Des Idees Napoleoniennes” and “Histoire de Jules Cesar” (yes, the emperor wrote two books on Julius Caesar).

Obviously, the encyclopedia also deals with the actual policies of the Second Empire: their bumbling attempts at mediation in the U.S. Civil War, the Crimean War, the Mexican intervention, Senegal, “Congress Policy”, etc. And, of course, the rebuilding of Paris! Curiously, there is no entry on Karl Marx' “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, but perhaps that came too early?

All in all, probably an indispensable reference if you are an advanced history student specializing in this period of French history. Only drawback for deplorable Anglophones: the authors sometimes use/quote French expressions without translating them!

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