Johann Sebastian Bach created what may be the most celestial and profound body of music in history; Frederick the Great built the colossus we now know as Germany, and along with it a template for modern warfare. Their fleeting encounter in 1757 signals a unique moment in history where belief collided with the cold certainty of reason. Set at the tipping point between the ancient and modern world, Evening in the Palace of Reason captures the tumult of the eighteenth century, the legacy of the Reformation, and the birth of the Enlightenment in this extraordinary tale of two men.
While Gaines is no match for Hofstadter as a thinker or stylist (he tends to be chatty), he writes with admirable erudition. The story he tells is a reminder that there was once a time when heads of state valued high culture as much as high finance, and when artists won fame through mastery rather than media manipulation.