Victor Hugo

The literary tastes of dictators are a slightly sordid fascination. Here are the favorite books of a few of our least favorite men.

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The Strange Power of Les Mis, the Book

Victor Hugo's Hard-nosed Melodrama

Why the most dramatic parts of Les Misérables are also the most politically incisive.

 

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Bicycle History

The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War By Graham Robb (W.W. Norton, 455 pp., $27.95) FOR A BOOK OF “historical geography,”The Discovery of France has received remarkable attention and acclaim: long and appreciative reviews in British and American newspapers, the title of “notable book of the year” from The New York Times, rapturous applause in The New York Review of Books, and so forth. The reason is not hard to see. Graham Robb is an engaging and gifted writer, known for his enjoyable and instructive biographies of Hugo and Rimbaud.

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The Forgotten Formalist

Hugo Black: A Biography by Roger K. Newman (Pantheon, 741 pp., $30) On February 17, 1960, at New York University, Justice Hugo Black defended his judicial philosophy against the sneers of Felix Frankfurter and Learned Hand. "Some people regard the prohibitions of the Constitution ... as mere admonitions which Congress need not always observe," said Black in backhanded response to Hand's lectures at Harvard two years earlier. This approach, which "comes close to the English doctrine of legislative omnipotence," Black could not accept.

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Indo-China

 FOR THE THIRD time, and after two years, one was back. There seemed at first so little that had changed: in Saigon there were new traffic lights in the Rue Catina and rather more beer bottle tops trodden into the asphalt outside the Continental Hotel and the Imperial Bar.

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