The Age of Louis XIV: A History of European Civilization in the Period of Pascal, Molière, Cromwell, Milton, Peter the Great, Newton, and Spinoza, 1648–1715

Unabridged Audiobook

Written By: Ariel Durant, Will Durant

Narrated By: Stefan Rudnicki

Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks

Date: March 2015

Duration: 36 hours 34 minutes

Summary:

The Age of Louis XIV is the biography of a period (1648–1715) that Spengler considered the apex of modern European civilization. Central to the book is the “Sun King” himself, Louis XIV, who ruled France for over seventy years, longer than almost any European ruler in history. He is the subject of a character study that runs through seven chapters, revealing the flesh and blood beneath the purple and the crown.

From France the narrative passes to the Netherlands, which shows the Dutch opening their dikes to save their land from Louis XIV and sending William of Orange to become king of England and a leader of the European alliance against Louis’ hegemony.

In England we contemplate the heyday of virtue under the Puritans and study the character of Cromwell. We see Milton’s passionate career as part of the vain effort to prevent the Stuart Restoration. We find Charles II, the “Merry Monarch,” attend boisterous Restoration plays; we skim the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys; and we follow Jonathan Swift from genius to insanity.

Crossing the North Sea we trace the tragic heroism of Charles XII of Sweden and the attempt of Peter the Great to lead Russia from barbarism to civilization. We accompany the noble Sobieski of Poland as he rescues Vienna from the Turks. We visit Italy and Spain. We see the Jews proscribed and impoverished in Europe but rising to riches in Amsterdam and following Sabbatai Zevi in a desperate hope of regaining Palestine and freedom.

All this forms the background for the “intellectual adventure” of the European mind in its passage from superstition, mythology, and intolerance to education, science, and philosophy, for this was the age of Newton, Leibniz, and Spinoza.

The book ends with the sunset of Le Roi Soleil: Louis dying defeated and repentant, begging his grandson and successor not to imitate his taste for splendor and war, and followed in his funeral by the insults of the crowd.

“[This work] is informed and highly readable; it is studded with vignettes of the leading figures; it is replete with facts spread widely over the many aspects of human endeavor; it is eloquently partisan for the dignity of man and the decencies of life.”—Saturday Review

Genres:

  • paul b

    a fascinating and exhaustively well researched glance into one of the pivotal eras of european history.