cover image Tocqueville


Andre Jardin. Farrar Straus Giroux, $35 (562pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27836-6

Alexis de Tocqueville was an aristocrat, a severe prison reformer, a colonialist who applied the lessons of Canada to French rule in Algeria. He was also, in his classic Democracy in America , a farsighted observer of the U.S. egalitarian experiment; in his analyses of rampant individualism, tyranny of the majority, creeping bureaucracy and alienation within a consumerist society, he seems very much our contemporary. This magisterial and absorbing biography is by a French historian who is general editor of Tocqueville's collected works. Jardin delineates his subject as a sickly, sensitive child, short-tempered husband of a middle-class Englishwoman, indefatigable traveler, ambitious politician and, above all, as a moralist who felt that only a spiritual force could lift the masses above petty, selfish interests to create a true democracy. (Nov.)