Ever since the edifying life written by his sister in the months after his death, canonical representations of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) have revered him for the scientific genius of his youth, the religious conversions of his mid-life, and the great books and greater saintliness of his last years. All this monumentalizes the hero, but it also reduces the man to a mind and spirit and it divides his life and work into unrelated halves. The preeminent specialist, Jean Mesnard, still picks up the subject where Gilberte Pascal left it in 1662. No historian in our language has even attempted to put the halves together again.
In Pascal: The Man and His Two Loves, John R. Cole reintegrates a life that began with familial attachments and achieved youthful marvels of invention and experiment with an Arithmetic Machine and Vacuum Experiments; Cole argues that love for his father spun the wheels and filled the void. Pascal then converted, having suffered particularly painful separations and losses; Cole's central chapters adapt Freudian methods to relate his newly ardent love of God to his prior love of parents. Finally, the convert wrote contrasting classics, the Provincial Letters and the Penses, before years of sanctified suffering terminated his work; Cole suggests that disciplined study of his affective life makes possible new readings of these great books.
"John R. Cole's Pascal is a work of love as well as of scholarly devotion. It brings alive a fascinating man and it makes fascinating reading--not only from beginning to end, but long afterwards, as we absorb all we have learned and are stimulated to think further. This book will be enjoyed by many, far beyond the fields of history and philosophy and regardless of prior knowledge of Pascal. I recommend it especially to everyone interested in the nature and development of human beings."
-Erna Furman, author of A Child's Parent Dies