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Kirkus ReviewsAn unsurprising biography of one of the founding fathers of science fiction, by a specialist in French literature and culture.
Lottman (The French Rothschilds, 1995, etc.) points out that the ostensibly definitive biography of Verne was written by one of Verne's relatives, Marguerite Allotte, who polished up his image with a free hand. So the reader is primed for new revelations and insights; alas, there are few if any here. Born in 1828 in the shipbuilding city of Nantes, Verne received a strict Catholic education in his youth, and was sent to Paris to study law—his father's profession. But he fell in with a Parisian literary crowd, including Alexandre Dumas, and was soon trying his hand at the sort of ephemeral comedy favored by the boulevard crowd. A popular science magazine, looking for a way to dramatize the latest discoveries, took several of his fictionalized accounts of travel to exotic places. But he had to support himself as a stockbroker until he broke into popular acclaim with Five Weeks in a Balloon—a fictional journey over the then unknown interior of Africa. While the novel shows the impact of Defoe, Fenimore Cooper, and Poe on the 33-year-old Verne, in many ways it was a clear preview of what he would do in almost all his work to come. Verne was soon writing two to three books a year, almost all tracing dramatic journeys to exotic or even imaginary places; while Lottman dutifully summarizes the plot of each, he finds little of interest to say about them beyond tracing obvious influences. In 1871, Verne moved from Paris to rural Amiens, where, despite his growing fame, he lived an increasingly hermetic life until his death early in 1905.
Lottman does his best to inject a bit of drama into his subject's rather quiet life, examining every small incident he can unearth, but in the end there is little here to keep even the most dedicated Verne fan awake.