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The Sun King

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  636 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Nancy Mitford's magnificent biography of Louis XIV is also an illuminating examination of France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It focuses in particular on the Court of Versailles, which Louis transformed into Europe's greatest palace, and on the daily life of the king, government and courtiers as France reached the peak of its artistic and militar ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 1st 1995 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1966)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,642)
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Kelly
After reading two of Nancy Mitford’s historical biographies, I can say that I have at the very least learned exactly who Nancy likes to invite to her parties. Ladies should be elegant, witty, memorable, beautiful if at all possible, and at the very least aware that one must dress if not. They should be wise in the ways of men, conform to religious standards only as much as necessary to not end up on the front page, and above all be disinclined to fall into the vapors. Men are required to be eleg ...more
Sketchbook
Nancy plays the Palace -- the greatest palace in the world.
An SRO headliner, she encores the mischief, treachery,
duplicity and debauchery in this blazing complex - surely
the first of its kind - which the Sun King called "home"
and where 15,000 residents bowed to His Majesty.

Hers isn't a bio. She focuses not on the King but on
Versailles -- his most famous creation. Topping a huge cast,
Louis 14th ambles through episodes of court life that interest
Mitford : masked balls, tournaments, garden parties,
...more
Jamie
This is a fun book, a rather chaotic collection of anecdotes and gossip about Louis XIV and his women, centered around their lives at Versailles. The author's narrative is sarcastic and amusing with little attempt at objectivity. This edition is a softcover but it's the size of a textbook with enough illustrations to make it a nice coffee table book.

The Sun King comes across as a disagreeable person, despite the author's admiration of his kind treatment of his exiled cousin James II. Louis was i
...more
Margaret
Once again, Nancy Mitford is the gossipy friend who happens to know quite a lot about 17th century France. The Sun King is a biography of both the French monarch and his home, Versailles. From the building of the palace to Louis XIV's many relationships, Mitford takes her informed but light-hearted attitude towards the different aspects of the court of the Sun King.

Instead of a comprehensive biography, Mitford focuses on the goings on and relationships within Versailles. There are, of course, m
...more
Adam Ford
This is not a history of France during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. It is a history of the day-to-day life of the King and his court at Versailles. Which is interesting. But not really what I was looking for. It didn't feed my desire to understand history. If you are looking to understand all the intricate political maneuvering among the courtiers in France during the late 1600s and early 1700s--this is your book.

I will share with you the two best (most interesting to me) antidotes fro
...more
Madeline
The Sun King is surprisingly dense, for a book that wouldn't hold up in peer-review (I assume? history is not my field) - which is a terrible thing to say, I guess. I mean: it's not an academic book, but it's still quite accomplished. Which is also terrible. But Nancy Mitford wasn't an academic. She was an aristocrat, with a keen eye for social interactions and obligations, and those hadn't changed as much as we might think in the 200ish span of years that separated her and Louis XIV. (There are ...more
Sarah weber-gallo
This book is a little schizo - interesting history a bit blandly written for Nancy Mitford. And while the copious illustrations are beautiful and informative, they make the book feel too much like a coffee table book...meaning I will never complete the text.
Lynn Silsby
Very enjoyable! I liked the chatty, even gossipy style.

From the sections on Louis XIV's three primary/official mistresses (but he cheated all over the place until finally resigning himself to one as an older man), I learned the following tips and tricks on how to get and keep a great man:

1) Be good at parties. 2) Don't get too fat. 3) Well, actually, you can get fat but then you better damn not be a complaining harpy on top of it. Above all, stay pleasant and charming and don't inconvenience men
...more
Tony
Mitford, Nancy. THE SUN KING. (1966). ***. French history is not one of my fortes, so that I turned to this biography by Mitford hoping to learn a little more. It didn’t work for me. I was soon overwhelmed by the details of Louis XIV and his court and his mistresses and his political allies. About a third of the way through the book, I began to skim the print and concentrate on the many illustrations provided for this book. If someone with a better basic background took up this book, they would ...more
Christopherseelie
Nancy Mitford writes about the reign of Louis XIV through the lens of his great passion project: Versailles. She tells us about lovers and intrigues by way of stairways and gardens. Private habits and public crisis have equal billing, while she circles around her lead figure, the King, with adroit discernment, giving the reader a precise reflection of the Sun King rather than risk looking directly at him with bare eyes.

There are instances of the author's own private habits coloring her work. Exa
...more
Grace
So far she has some interesting facts laced through the narrative, but a lot of antiquated assumptions (copyright 1966)that make my eyebrows go up. My biggest issue is the very non-linear structure of this book. Mitford is all over the place with the time line in chapters. It's nearly impossible to keep up with what events are taking place when with such a scattershot approach. If I wasn't already familiar with some of the history of Louis XIV and his morganatic wife, I'd be lost.

Updated - In th
...more
Simone
I liked this book, especially the set up! It's so smart: it starts with a brief biography of Louis XIV complete with all the dates you need to fall asleep, then the rest of the book fleshes out his life, the lives of the members of the Court and the French Royal Family without that “reading a text-book” feeling. More like a collections of anecdotes – right up my alley!

My problem was just that: “all the members of the Court and the French Royal Family” - there are just TOO MANY PEOPLE!!!

Although
...more
Marjorie
An eye-opening read in some respects - I now understand why the French Revolution came about. The book is a bit confusing due to the huge number of people involved - too many Madames and Ducs and Marquises to keep track of. A genealogical chart of the French royal family at that period would have been a huge help.
David
I read this years ago, and loved it. No surprise there, as Nancy Mitford is one of my favorite writers, and I believe I have read everything by her I could get my hands on!
Sherwood Smith
Reading this graceful history in conjunction with others really illustrates (I think) the different view of one raised as an aristocrat, who sees no use in looking at the world from any other point of view.

Mitford gives wonderful insight into so many of Saint-Simon's precisely reported little scenes of etiquette warfare . . . but. She falls down completely (I think) in reviling against Madame de Maintenon who (it seems here) committed her greatest sin in being born bourgeois, and then being rais
...more
Kay Robart
The Sun King is an interesting biography of Louis XIV and a history of his court, although it occasionally assumes a level of knowledge about French history that I do not have. It is also not terribly revealing of the personality of Louis XIV, who was apparently a very guarded person. For example, the book contains no revealing quotes from personal letters or anything similar. Of course, the book is well written and witty. Although Mitford is best known for her humorous novels of sharp social co ...more
Bloobird
Basically what you could expect. Very gossipy and focussed on life in the court. Not hugely detailed on the conflicts and wars of Louis XIV, but those sorts of things are easier to brush up on from general sources than are the subjects with which this book concerns itself. Readable and clear prose style as can be expected.
Kimmo
Mitford's gossipy turn of phrase has been noted by other reviewers but I didn't find it too disruptive an influence on the reading experience overall. The Sun King is a fascinating little book about the life of Louis XIV and, more than that, of the enormous social, political and cultural organization that revolved around his person. I hesitate to call it a biography in doubt that the genre is suitable for a person who was so much more than an individual with a history. For King Louis was himself ...more
Susan
Interesting, gossipy portrayal of Louis xiv at Versailles. The bits about medical care at that time were astounding.
Patricia Spadaro
Read like a gossip fest about a group of people I hardly knew. Maybe a more Eurocentric knowledge of history would have helped me sort the characters. This is probable the biggest problem I had and that that everove, including Louis, seemed like characters and not real people.
Gina
Louis IV was one busy guy: fought wars every summer, built Versailles, kept an eye on everyone at Court, and kept several ladies busy: his Queen, who unfortunately for her was in love with him all her life; I stopped trying to keep track of how many other squeezes he had(at least 4 or 5, maybe more); and if he went to visit a mistress and she kept him waiting, he'd go off in a corner with one of her maids. He had at least two children each way: Queen, mistress, and lady-in-waiting. Then once the ...more
Stephen
Mitford's double portrait of Louis XIV and Versailles offers a fascinating look at the daily lives and loves of the King, his court, and his ministers, all in a brisk, conversational style and many, many delicious bons mots. Nevertheless, I have to agree with another reviewer that the multiple Monsieurs and Madames, Marquises and Ducs, become very hard to keep straight, and the confusion occasionally threatens to undermine the drama; a solid grounding in the period's history and personality woul ...more
Brian Berrett
I'm no great historian but I do love history. I wasn't overly familiar with Louis XIV so I found this book fresh. I enjoyed reading about his life and the construction of Versailles.

Mitford did a nice job telling the story and mixing in her opinion. Sometimes her opinion is blatant and sometimes subtle. I found to best enjoy the book, I had to read it and concentrate or I'd miss some of the subtleties.

At any rate, a fun and interesting book about Louis XIV's life.
Lauren Chong Sng
It was okay... I was confused by use of titles rather than proper names. I enjoyed the previous book better, Love and Louis XIV.
Tom
An excellent, short biography of Louis XIV and his court at Versailles, told with a light touch by Nancy Mitford. The various family relations--cousins, parents, in-laws, aunts and uncles, grand-parents, etc.--add to the complexity, so that a second reading (for me, at least) would be needed to keep everybody and their titles straight. But the conspiracies, debaucheries, squabbles, and so forth make for non-stop busyness.
Nonheagan
A gossipy, at times elliptical romp through the social circles and subcultures that filled Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV. Less than ideal for somebody who is not already savvy about the players--I would have benefited enormously from a family tree such as the one provided in Frances Mossiker's "The Affair of the Poisons" (1969). All told, a lovely warm bath to sink into for a short while.
Caro
She packs a huge amount of information into a briskly told story. Her character sketches are vivid and quirky. Were they really all so odd, or is it the Mitford wit that makes them so? This really is all about the society around Louis XIV, with very little about his wars and diplomacy except as they affect the court. Buying this copy used at Shakespeare & Coo. in Paris was the icing on the cake.
JodiP
I read this just after Court Lady and Country Wife, which helped give this book some background in events. It was a fascinating look at how Louis XIV build Versailles and all the personalities at court at the time. The illustrations are incredible, too. This was published in 1966, and the writing style was also of interest; Mitford was downright chatty and witty at times. Marvelous work.
Samantha Bee
3.5 Stars
While an interesting, quick, and easy read, I found this book spent much more time focusing on the lives of those around Louis XIV and less on Louis himself. There were also some spelling mistakes and odd grammatical errors that threw me off. I would say this might not be the best book to read for a first biography on Louis XIV, but it makes good further reading nonetheless.
Katie Brennan
A visual and anecdotal extravaganza. Nancy Mitford is worthy of her subjects, Louis XIV and his court, which is a tall order. There are jealousies, black masses, epidemics of murderous poisonings, enemas, the hunting of wolves to extinction, the stealing of orange trees, and SO MUCH MORE. One of the most enjoyable books I have read in some time. All thanks to Branden for recommending.
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NYRB Classics: The Sun King, by Nancy Mitford 1 4 Oct 30, 2013 07:45PM  
  • A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer
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  • Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King
  • Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France
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  • Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking
  • The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise d'Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon
  • Athenais: The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress, the Real Queen  Of France
  • Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style
  • The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace
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Nancy Mitford, CBE (28 November 1904, London – 30 June 1973, Versailles), styled The Hon. Nancy Mitford before her marriage and The Hon. Mrs Peter Rodd thereafter, was an English novelist and biographer, one of the Bright Young People on the London social scene in the inter-war years. She was born at 1 Graham Street (now Graham Place) in Belgravia, London, the eldest daughter of Lord Redesdale and ...more
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