352 pages, Vintage, ISBN-13: 978-0394717517
Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen is a great book, not because it is a biography of Louis XIV, but rather of the nation of France under his reign. It looks at everything that occurred during these years and puts them in the context of a national history, covering the social impacts of the king’s rule, both military and the civilian. The author provides wonderful supporting details that you will find nowhere else, talking, for instance, at one point about how the economy improved and interest rates dropped during the brief peace between the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession. He talks in great detail about the famines that occurred during that time and other socioeconomic problems. The book is not too long but goes into adequate detail about his topic.
The book lets you in for what the author really thinks right off the bat, as he rather pessimistic when you first read this book. This work does, however, do a rather great job of describing the ins-and-outs of 17th Century France and of the man who ruled it. You do have to know a lot about the time in question, as there are no introductions to the rest of Europe or those who went before Louis XIV that are mentioned many times – AND the author assumes the reader will know what he is talking about when he brings up French political history, as well as that of Spain, England, Holland, and most importantly, the Empire. Fortunately for me, this ear is just my cup of tea, so I was reasonably prepared for the references to Cromwell, William, and Leopold.