Joseph de Maistre is the first full biography in English of one of the founders of conservatism, and the first to have benefited from access to the family archives. Richard Lebrun shows that understanding the dynamics of Maistre’s political evolution contributes not only to our knowledge of Continental conservatism as it emerged from the crucible of the French Revolution but also to a better understanding of the roots of modem conservatism. Even in France, where his stature as a great stylist generally has been acknowledged, Maistre is often dismissed with a brief remark about his scandalous comments on bloodshed and war. Lebrun argues that this dismissal is unwarranted: study of Maistre’s life and thought is worthwhile in itself and provides useful insights into the factors that encourage the formulation and acceptance of conservatism or reactionary ideologies. Lebrun shows how Maistre became a renowned defender of throne and altar by detailing the formative influences -the Savoyard roots, religious heritage, and predominant intellectual influences - of Maistre’s experience before 1794. The Joseph de Maistre revealed here is a more complex figure than either the bloody-minded apologist for conservatism portrayed by his liberal critics or the steadfast Church Father of his traditional Roman Catholic admirers. Maistre was a scholarly magistrate in the tradition of Montesquieu, a man who had been open to the trends of his time but was profoundly shaken by the violence of the French Revolution. Appalled by the prospect of chaos, he used his rhetorical skills as a lawyer to defend monarchical institutions and traditional Catholicism. Lebrun argues that only with the opening of the family archives and the discoveries in recent studies are we able to appreciate Maistre’s struggles to understand the upheavals of his time, his doubts and hesitations, and his reasons for taking the public positions he chose.