Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh

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Assistant: Amber Garvey


Sudhir Hazareesingh was born in Mauritius. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and has been a Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford, since 1990. He has written extensively about French intellectual and cultural history; among his books are The Legend of NapoleonIn the Shadow of the General and How the French Think. He won the Prix du Mémorial d'Ajaccio and the Prix de la Fondation Napoléon for the first of these, a Prix d'Histoire du Sénat for the second, and the Grand Prix du Livre d'Idées for the third. In 2020, he became a Grand Commander of the Order of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean (G.C.S.K.), the highest honour of the Republic of Mauritius. His latest publication, Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture won the 2021 Wolfson History Prize, with the judges describing it as an ‘erudite and elegant biography of a courageous leader which tells a gripping story with a message that resonates strongly in our own time’.




*Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize 2020*

*Shortlisted for the PEN USA Award for Biography 2021*

*Shortlisted for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2021*

*Shortlisted for the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography 2021*

*Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography 2021*

*Shortlisted for the Prix Jean D’Ormesson*

*Shortlisted for the Prix Château de Versailles du Livre d'Histoire, 2021*

The Haitian Revolution began in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue with a slave revolt in August 1791, and culminated a dozen years later in the proclamation of the world's first independent black state. After the abolition of slavery in 1793, Toussaint Louverture, himself a former slave, became the leader of the colony's black population, the commander of its republican army and eventually its governor. During the course of his extraordinary life he confronted some of the dominant forces of his age - slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism and racial hierarchy. Treacherously seized by Napoleon's invading army in 1802, this charismatic figure ended his days, in Wordsworth's phrase, 'the most unhappy man of men', imprisoned in a fortress in France.

Black Spartacus draws on a wealth of archival material, much of it overlooked by previous biographers, to follow every step of Louverture's singular journey, from his triumphs against French, Spanish and British troops to his skilful regional diplomacy, his Machiavellian dealings with successive French colonial administrators and his bold promulgation of an autonomous Constitution. Sudhir Hazareesingh shows that Louverture developed his unique vision and leadership not solely in response to imported Enlightenment ideals and revolutionary events in Europe and the Americas, but through a hybrid heritage of fraternal slave organisations, Caribbean mysticism and African political traditions. Above all, Hazareesingh retrieves Louverture's rousing voice and force of personality, making this the most engaging, as well as the most complete, biography to date.

After his death in the French fortress, Louverture became a figure of legend, a beacon for slaves across the Atlantic and for generations of European republicans and progressive figures in the Americas. He inspired the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass, the most eminent nineteenth-century African-American; his emancipatory struggle was hailed by those who defied imperial and colonial rule well into the twentieth. In the modern era, his life informed the French poet Aimé Césaire's seminal idea of négritude and has been celebrated in a remarkable range of plays, songs, novels and statues. Here, in all its drama, is the epic story of the world's first black superhero.



“This thrilling, magisterial, superb biography, full of new material, tells the extraordinary swashbuckling, bloodspattered, inspirational life of Toussaint, brilliant leader of the Haitian slave revolt against France … Essential reading.” Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard Books of the Year

“The subject of this superbly researched book was born a slave and grew up to be the leading figure in the uprising of 1791, in modern Haiti, which reverberated around the world. Fragmentary records have until now meant Toussaint Louverture was a shadowy historical character; this reconstruction gives his political, military and intellectual accomplishments their due.” The Economist, Books of the Year

Black Spartacus is a tour de force: by far the most complete, authoritative and persuasive biography of Toussaint that we are likely to have for a long time … an extraordinarily gripping read.” Guardian

“Sudhir Hazareesingh’s engrossing new life … is the story of an island as well as a man … Hazareesingh brings to the task a voracious appetite for original sources and a discerning ear for those that have the ring of truth.  He also has a gift for tracing those threads that reveal a previously unrecognised pattern in the fabric of a life.” Wall Street Journal

“Everyone ought to read Sudhir Hazareesingh’s superb history of the Haitian revolutionary hero Toussaint Louverture, Black Spartacus. In January 1804, two centuries ago, the French West Indian island of Haiti became the world’s first black republic. The Africans toiling on the sugar-rich plantations overthrew their French masters and declared independence. Hazareesingh, a Mauritius-born historian, tells how Louverture became an emblem of slavery’s hoped-for abolition throughout all the Americas. To this day, Haiti’s is the only successful slave revolution in history. Stirring stuff.” Ian Thomson, Evening Standard Books of the Year

“There is no better literary contribution to the year of Black Lives Matter than Sudhir Hazareesingh’s Black Spartacus, an authoritative biography of Toussaint Louverture, who led the successful “slave revolt” in Haiti and paved the way for Haitian independence. Toussaint was a truly remarkable man: a former slave who mobilised disparate groups into a resistance movement; a brilliant military strategist and brave fighter; a subtle and skilful politician; an eloquent communicator; a humane and principled man who fought racism while preaching and practising forgiveness and racial tolerance. He demonstrated that an anti-slavery movement could succeed.” Vince Cable, New Statesman Books of the Year

A thorough reconsideration of the legendary Haitian leader, whose deployment of republican ideals of racial equality were radical and transformative – and still resonate today … A knowledgeable biography that carefully considers the nuances of Toussaint’s character and the legends that surround him.” Kirkus Reviews




*Winner of the Prix Panorama des Idees, 2015*

“Sudhir Hazareesingh’s new book seems so welcome and timely … Hazareesingh’s tone is playful and sharp and his prose is lively and clear and his erudition and elegance recall the most distinguished guide in the English language to the intricacies of the French imagination.” Andrew Hussey, Guardian

“A thoughtful, stimulating and witty historical survey of French thought … as the title of his delightful book stresses, he is, in the end, paying affectionate tribute to France’s long love affair with ideas.” Tony Barber, Financial Times

 Lively and informative account of French thought from Descartes to the present day … Any book such as this – expansive in reference, detailed in reading – carries the reader as much on anecdote as insight. Hazareesingh has a quick eye to the telling detail, the curious story that illuminates the whole.” Scotsman

 "Hazareesingh, an Oxford don, brings specific strengths to this daunting task. He was born and raised in Mauritius, a former French and British colony; he was schooled on French classics; he is a historian of ideas who divides his time between Oxford and Paris; and he has a sense of humour to match his intellect. Hazareesingh’s portrait is affectionate in the fullest sense: familiar and fondly teasing." Spectator

"A wonderful book – scholarly, penetrating and sometimes very funny ... a marvellous, and marvellously readable book, for all that: by turns illuminating, affectionate and exasperated." Independent

“As the subtitle, An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People, suggests, Hazareesingh aims to balance the serious research with a sense of humour, the better to show how French thought is often its own kind of hedonism. His account of Victor Hugo's séances - featuring, among others, Plato, Shakespeare, Jesus and "the Shadow of the Sepulchre" - is a model of that balance, triumphantly pulling intellectual history out of anecdote." Daily Telegraph

“In this new book, which is both erudite and entertaining, [Hazareesingh] addresses a wider audience than in his previous work … Despite the broad sweep and readability, his analysis is always nuanced … There could be no wiser or more witty guide to the problems of France today.” Times Literary Supplement

“Every man has two countries, his own, and France. Except that we don’t. Our French is never quite up to speed, and our knowledge of key dates like 1415 and 1815 hardly makes us au fait with the inwardness of French culture. We get by. But we dream of one day being at home there. Sudhir Hazareesingh, in How the French Think: An affectionate portrait of an intellectual people (Allen Lane) reminds us how much we have to learn. For the author, born in Mauritius, a historian of France, is instinctively bicultural in ways that drew us to Richard Cobb. This book depicts Parisian society like a Cambridge party in which everyone knows the jokes, and everyone knows where the bodies are buried. You will read it not just with fascination, but with relish. And don’t miss what he has to say about Jean Monnet." Jonathan Clark, TLS Books of the Year

“[A] first-rate book … This vast, opinionated and wholly original book reminds us that ideas still count and that intellectual endeavour still has resonance … In three words: vive la France!” New Statesman

"This sensitive and detailed book … the narrative is brimming with fascinating tidbits.” Newsweek

“Subtle, funny, and mischievous” The Paris Review

“Hazareesingh has done more than anyone writing in English to unravel what the sociologist Emmanuel Todd recently called “le mystère français.” Prospect

“Wryly funny … Hazareesingh has a gift for distilling mounds of information into clear, engrossing prose. This is above all a convivial book, true to its subtitle though not without a finely tuned bullshit detector." New Republic

“An … informative and colourful tour d’horizon” Publishers Weekly

"Anyone who loves, loathes, or is just perplexed by self-styled French intellectuals—that is, most educated French people—should read this book" Foreign Affairs

“It is unusual to laugh aloud when reading a history of ideas, but I did so more than once when reading How the French Think. Its sweep is thrilling and its expositions lucid, but it carries its learning lightly and is written with an astringent wit. Everyone interested in France and the French will enjoy and learn from this book.” Robert Tombs, Professor of French History, Cambridge University

“Stendhal wrote that a novel was "un miroir qu'on promène le long d'un chemin." And no better mirror on the wandering path of French culture of yesterday and today could be found than this wise and gentle book, as learned as it is engaging. Péguy worried about what God would have to think about if the French were not there to amuse and inform him. Now we know why this might still be so.” Patrice Higonnet, Professor of French History, Harvard University

“A thoughtful study…[Hazareesingh] achieves the right distance from and intimacy with his subject… A rarefied and compelling study.” Kirkus Reviews

“In beautiful prose and with incredible sweep and range, Sudhir Hazareesingh helps to fill a void left by the passing of Tony Judt. Readers will discover in these pages a confident and graceful observer of contemporary France, whose eyes are at once sensitive and unsparing, attuned to the dilemmas of the present, and deeply informed by the long vistas of the past.” Darrin McMahon, author of Divine Fury

“Few historians would have the courage to write a book with a title like How the French Think. But few historians know France, and the French, better than Sudhir Hazareesingh. He has brought his formidable knowledge and experience of the country to bear in a book that is consistently engaging and thought-provoking, and written with a light touch that makes it a delight to read.” David Bell, author of The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It

“It is unusual to laugh aloud when reading a history of ideas, but I did so more than once while reading How the French Think. Its sweep is thrilling and its expositions lucid, but it carries its learning lightly and is written with an astringent wit. Everyone interested in France and the French will enjoy and learn from this book.” Robert Tombs, Professor of French History at Cambridge University



“A scintillating piece of work. The great interest of Sudhir Hazareesingh’s remarkable book on the gaullian myth lies in the disentangling of what, in the cult of the General, has been swept up from the tides of History and what is the patient product of political craftsmanship.” Le Point

“In this perceptive and richly-documented work, Hazareesingh analyzes the fascination of the French for the General, and shows how the gaullian myth is both malleable and multi-faceted.” Le Monde

“The best book on de Gaulle.” Le Magazine des Livres

“A fascinating study of the De Gaulle myth ... his book is a model of recent French historiography in the tradition of Pierre Nora and Maurice Agulhon.  He is also a political scientist, intrigued by the general's stake in his own myth-making as a means of empowerment and self-justification ... When he strays from the rich world of myth and memorialisation to consider De Gaulle the man, Hazareesingh's judgements are beautifully measured.” Jeremy Harding, London Review of Books

“In this inspiring and brilliant work, Sudhir Hazareesingh tracks the progressive emergence of France’s last great secular religion. He concludes that de Gaulle combined in his person the four great figures of political heroism: the Liberator, the prophet, the legislator, and the sage.” L’Express

“Always contested as a statesman, Charles de Gaulle has now become the greatest political legend of contemporary France. Sudhir Hazareesingh demonstrates how the General has become the incarnation of France.” Ouest-France.

“Sudhir Hazareesingh has been working on the political uses of memory for several years. His specialization in napoleonic history makes him the ideal person to tackle the gaullian legend, and he delivers brilliantly in this book.” Nonfiction

“This study of the representations of General de Gaulle is constructed by combining a chronological approach with a thematic structure. The very rich content of the book highlights the complexity of the gaullian figure.” Etudes

“Sudhir Hazareesingh brings his great expertise of the mythical foundations of modern France to bear on this magnificent study of the Gaullian myth. Powerful catalyst of a movement of national reconciliation, de Gaulle’s legend furnished France in the second half of the twentieth century with the ideals it needed to confront modernity.” La Recherche

“This historical essay, drawing on a rich harvest of public archives and private correspondance, enables us to understand how de Gaulle has become a national political myth, in the same iconic league as Joan of Arc, Louis XIV, and Napoleon.” L’Agitateur d’Idées

“This book should be read above all because of the original light it sheds on the subject. It is undoubtedly as an admirer that Sudhir Hazareesingh paints the portrait of ‘the last great Frenchman’ – but an admirer who knows how to handle irony, and who sticks as closely as possible to the historical facts.” Mediapart

“A wide-ranging and personal essay. This is not simply a book about de Gaulle. Rather, it seeks to show how de Gaulle evoked certain quasi-religious images concerned with salvation, liberation, fatherhood, and martyrdom.” Times Literary Supplement

“An incisive analysis.” Libération


Publication DetailsNotes


Sudhir Hazareesingh's How the French Think is a warm yet incisive exploration of the French intellectual tradition, and its exceptional place in a nation's identity and lifestyle
Why are the French an exceptional nation? Why do they think they are so exceptional? An important reason is that in France intellectual activity is regarded not just as the preserve of the thinking elite but for almost everyone. French thought can sometimes be austere and often opaque, yet it is undeniably bold and innovative, and driven by a relentless quest for the regeneration of humanity. Sudhir Hazareesingh traces its tumultuous history in an enormously enjoyable and highly original manner, showing how the French ways of thought and life connect. This will be one of the most revealing books written about them - or any other European country - for years.



While not a companion volume to Hazareesingh`s earlier THE LEGEND OF NAPOLEON, this book will offer much in common - in that it too looks at the creation (and in this case, self-creation) of a legend, and the journey (in life and death) to becoming as mythical, iconic figure. It's definitely not a biography but nor is it a book that assumes any great previous knowledge of its subject's life. Along the way, there are some fascinating and appealing aspects to be examined: the French fetish for statues and objects of cult; the perception of France by outsiders, on the "Anglo-Saxon" views of France, with De Gaulle embodying all the things "we" hate about the French: arrogance, ingratitude, obstinacy, deceit, jammyness; the French obsession with national strength (taking a look at Asterix and how he is in many ways the cultural embodiment of Gaullism!); and France's need for heroic father-figures. In that sense the book will also tell a wider story of who the French are, what makes them tick.



'God was bored with Napoleon' wrote Victor Hugo and as is well-known, the Emperor was duly defeated at Waterloo in 1815 and exiled to St Helena, where he died an agonising and horrifying death. The Emperor's real legacy is the modernising and beautifying of Paris, the official promotion of religious tolerance, the current French legal and educational systems, and the European Union, to name but a few Napolenic initiatives. And of course, the legend lives on. Drawing on new archival research, Hazareesingh traces not only the emergence of the Napoleonic myth and how it developed into a potent political culture, but also the amazing tenacity of popular affection for the emperor, manifest in countless busts and portraits in ordinary citizens' homes, grass-roots political activism, miraculous apparitions reported after his death, and the memories kept alive by thousands of imperial war veterans. With a new wave of Napoleonic commemorations due in 2004 to mark the bi-centenary of the proclamation of the First Empire, this book is a timely study of why the fascination with Napoleon has endured for two centuries.