Alexis de Tocqueville’s Souvenirs was his extraordinarily lucid and trenchant analysis of the 1848 revolution in France. Despite its bravura passages and stylistic flourishes, however, it was not intended for publication. Written just before Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s 1851 coup prompted the great theorist of democracy to retire from political life, it was initially conceived simply as an exercise in candid personal reflection. In Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 and Its Aftermath, renowned historian Olivier Zunz and award-winning translator Arthur Goldhammer offer an entirely new translation of Tocqueville’s compelling book.
The book has an interesting publishing history. Yielding to pressure from friends, Tocqueville finally approved its publication, although only after those portrayed in the work—most, unflatteringly—had died. After Tocqueville’s death, his grandnephew published a redacted version, but it was not until 1942 that French editors restored the potentially offensive passages.
Goldhammer’s is the first English translation to do justice to Tocqueville’s original uncensored masterpiece of analytical description, stylistic subtlety, vivid social panorama, and incisive critique of political blundering and cowardice. Zunz’s introduction—and his addition of several of Tocqueville’s ancillary speeches, occasional texts, and letters—round out a unique volume that significantly enhances our understanding of the revolutionary period and Tocqueville’s role in it. In this new edition, Zunz highlights the persistent influence of the United States on the life and work of a man who tirelessly, albeit futilely, promoted the American model of government for the New French Republic.