Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh

Add to shortlist



Mauritian-born Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh is University Professor in Politics and a Tutorial Fellow in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford.  He is a fellow of the British Academy and winner of the Prix D’Histoire of the Fondation Napoleon for his 2006 book, The Legend of Napoleon.  His In The Shadow of the General (Le Mythe Guallien) was published by Gallimard in France in 2010 and by OUP in 2011.  It was described as “inspiring and brilliant” in L’Express, “fascinating and beautifully measured” in the London Review of Books, and “perceptive and richly documented” in Le Monde, and was awarded the History Prize 2010 by the French Senate in recognition of a book which has helped to stimulate public reflection on the principles of good citizenship.

Latest publication:


Winner of the Prix Panorama des Idees, 2015

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.

The French: orderly and anarchic, rational and mystical, arrogant and anxious, charming and exasperating, serious and frivolous, pessimistic, pleasure-loving - and perhaps more than any other people, intellectual. In this original and entertaining approach to France and the French, Sudhir Hazareesingh describes how the French ways of thought and life connect to make them such a distinctive nation.

One of the purposes of How The French Think is to convey the ideas of some of the most influential French thinkers of the past 400 years - Voltaire and Rousseau, Hugo and Michelet, Camus and Sartre, Lévi-Strauss and Foucault. Sudhir Hazareesingh is able to show how bold, imaginative and sweeping French thought is, how greatly it values high culture (in contrast to the English) and how it has given an almost sacred role to the writer - hence the prominent role of intellectuals in French collective life, and the intensity with which ideas are debated.

The book explores the French commitment to rationalism and ideology, their belief in the State, their cult of heroes and their contempt for materialism. It describes their stylistic fetishes, their fondness for general notions, their love of paradoxes, their current fixations with the nation and collective memory, their messianic instincts and their devotion to universalism. ('France', claimed the historian Ernest Lavisse without a trace of irony, 'is charged with representing the cause of humanity'.)

How The French Think ranges from Descartes to Derrida, and from big moral and philosophical issues to the symbolic significance of Astérix and the survival of the French language in a globalized world. Drawing on a colourful range of sources, and written with warmth and humour, it will appeal to all lovers of France and of French culture.


“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

“A grand project … [Hazareesingh] has a rare, clear sightline … a privileged standpoint from which to make out the “preferred concepts, frameworks and modes of thought”, even the “stylistic fetishes”, of the French. It is weighty stuff, and Hazareesingh does not cut corners.” Sunday Telegraph

“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

“This fascinating book.” Observer

“Subtle, funny, and mischievous” The Paris Review

“Ideas have mattered a lot to modern French identity –far more so than in Britain. This is thus far more than a readable and erudite intellectual history: Hazareesingh, and Oxford politics lecturer, never loses sight of the task of explaining how those ideas have shaped the French mind.” Evening Standard

“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.