From an eminent scholar, a spirited introduction to one of the great polymaths in the history of Europe.
Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) is best known in the English-speaking world for his contributions to mathematics and physics, with both a triangle and a law in fluid mechanics named after him. Meanwhile, the classic film My Night at Maud’s popularized Pascal’s wager, an invitation to faith that has inspired generations of theologians. Despite the immensity of his reputation, few read him outside French schools. In A Summer with Pascal, celebrated literary critic Antoine Compagnon opens our minds to a figure somehow both towering and ignored.
Compagnon provides a bird’s-eye view of Pascal’s life and significance, making this volume an ideal introduction. Still, scholars and neophytes alike will profit greatly from his masterful readings of the Pensées—a cornerstone of Western philosophy—and the Provincial Letters, in which Pascal advanced wry theological critiques of his contemporaries. The concise, taut chapters build upon one another, easing into writings often thought to be forbidding and dour. With Compagnon as our guide, these works are not just accessible but enchanting.
A Summer with Pascal brings the early modern thinker to life in the present. In an age of profound existential doubt and assaults on truth and reason, in which religion and science are so often crudely opposed, Pascal’s sophisticated commitment to both challenges us to meet the world with true intellectual vigor.
Today’s students are lucky devils! Without difficulty, in an appealing way, they can grasp the essence of a classic writer thanks to this summer series…launched by Antoine Compagnon with Montaigne, continued with Baudelaire, and now enriched by A Summer with Pascal.
The name Blaise Pascal isn’t always associated with seaside leisure. We think of him as cerebral and sanctimonious, austere and despondent…But this is to misunderstand him…Antoine Compagnon doesn’t just give him another face in A Summer with Pascal: in forty short chapters that one could read between swims, he alternates between literary study and biographical anecdotes with a joyfulness that suits his subject.
What better guide than Antoine Compagnon…to introduce us to the world of this scientific and literary ‘terrifying genius,’ mystic and polemicist, ‘jouster and game player,’ this writer without equal of the Pensées and Provincial Letters?
Following A Summer with Montaigne, Antoine Compagnon excels once again in resuscitating and animating a key figure in French intellectual history. Clarifying without simplifying, A Summer with Pascal invites readers along the fascinating paths of Pascal’s dialectical thought—and Catherine Porter’s elegant translation is the icing on the cake. An excellent read for any season.
Antoine Compagnon offers us a new portrait of a great, often quoted and perhaps even more often misunderstood writer. The effect is to let us in on an intimate conversation across centuries. However much we may think we know about Pascal, we can learn a great deal from this absorbing work.
- 184 pages
- 5 x 7 inches
- Belknap Press
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