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Michael Silverstein writes:
Joseph’s massive, meticulous book is a heroic biography, tightly focused on its protagonist and with a melodramatic, if not tragic, tone of knowing retrospection. Joseph lays out the many crushing psychological, familial, social, institutional and professional forces arrayed against his brilliant, headstrong subject. Saussure was a chip off the old Calvinist block, a Genevan aristocrat of apparently impeccable, seemingly distant and modest, perhaps even condescending manners, who, unsurprisingly, functioned poorly in the intensely professionalised and competitive academic milieus of Leipzig and Paris. There is a growing sense of inevitability as Joseph’s story unfolds: Saussure dies just as the European Belle Epoque is about to give way to the cataclysms of the 20th century, which would leave the US as the dominant power in the scholarly and scientific fields.