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Motherless child, failed apprentice, autodidact, impossibly odd lover, Jean-Jacques Rousseau burst unexpectedly onto the eighteenth-century scene as a literary provocateur whose works electrified readers from the start. Rousseau’s impact on American social and political thought remains deep, wide, and, to some, even infuriating. Leo Damrosch beautifully mines Rousseau’s books—The Social Contract, one of the greatest works on political theory and a direct influence on the French and American revolutions; Emile, a ground breaking treatise on education; and The Confessions, which created the genre of introspective autobiography—as works still uncannily alive to us today.
Damrosch’s triumph is to integrate the story of Rousseau’s extraordinarily original writings with the tumultuous life that produced them. Rousseau’s own words and those of people who knew him help create an accessible, vivid portrait of a questing…[more]