Sudhir Hazareesingh

The Eyes of a Dead Fish

Napoleon’s Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand


Jonathan Cape 370pp £20 order from our bookshop

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was a noble grandee who lived through the troubled era of the French Revolution. Yet unlike most of his fellow-grandees, for whom the end of the ancien régime was typically accompanied by broken careers, financial ruin and exile (not to mention the threatening hiss of the guillotine), Talleyrand came through and prospered. It all began when, as the freshly appointed Bishop of Autun, he attended the Estates General in 1789 as a representative of his diocese. Realising that the nobility and the clergy were spent forces, he switched sides to the bourgeois Third Estate, a timely move which soon propelled him to the presidency of the National Assembly in 1790. This knack for sensing the prevailing direction of the political winds rarely deserted him thereafter. Whenever and wherever power moved, Talleyrand moved with it as, from the mid 1790s, governments came and went and France successively experienced revolutionary, consular, imperial, provisional, Bourbon and Orleanist rule. The unsinkable Talleyrand served all these regimes, offering his singular combination of zeal, intelligence, egotism, and ironic detachment (‘this is my thirteenth oath, sire’, he laconically informed the bemused Louis XVIII as he was sworn in as his Foreign Minister). 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Here is @MannJessica's June crime fiction round-up, discussing books by Georges Simenon, Jack Grimwood,… ,
    • John Stubbs reviews Stephen Greenblatt's latest, 'Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power' ,
    • RT : What happened when US military strategist Herman Kahn - one of Kubrick’s three models for Dr Strangelove - took LSD… ,
    • 'Pollan has no doubt that the use of psychedelics could have a powerfully beneficial effect on a range of condition… ,
    • A memoir about an Untouchable family and the 'formation of modern India': 'Ants among Elephants' by @gidla_sujatha… ,
    • RT : First founded in Edinburgh in 1979, is considered a trusted independent source for reviews of new book… ,
    • 'In different ways Hatherley makes gritty Lódź and poor old which-country-are-we-in-this-week Lviv sound entrancing… ,