Books: The Faltering Trajectory

THE AGE OF LOUIS XIV by Will and Ariel Durant. 802 pages. Simon & Schuster. $10.

Louis branded the age with his name. He was, after all, the arbiter of its fashions, the patron of its arts, the instigator of its wars. He was the Sun King, and Le Brun painted him as a god on the vaults of Versailles.

But the age named after Louis (roughly 1648-1715) was perhaps more profoundly embodied in the frail frame of another Frenchman, Blaise Pascal. Pascal began as a youthful exponent of reason and science—most notably in his studies of atmospheric pressure and the calculus...

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