David Avrom Bell is a historian of early modern and modern Europe. His new book, published in July 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution. A study of how new forms of political charisma arose in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it shows that charismatic authoritarianism is as modern a political form as liberal democracy, and shares many of the same origins. Based on exhaustive research in original sources, the book includes case studies of the careers of George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Toussaint Louverture and Simon Bolivar. The book's Introduction can be read here. A talk that Bell gave at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, summarizing the main themes of the book, can be viewed here. An online conversation he had about the book with Annette Gordon-Reed, hosted by the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library, can be viewed here. Links to material about the book, including reviews in The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Harper's, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Review of Books and other venues can be found here.
Bell is also the author of six previous books, most recently The West: A New History, with his colleague Anthony Grafton. He has published academic articles in both English and French, and contributes regularly to general interest publications on a variety of subjects, ranging from modern warfare, to contemporary French politics, to the impact of digital technology on learning and scholarship, and of course French history. His writings have been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Hebrew, Swedish, Polish, Russian, German and Italian. He teaches in the History Department at Princeton University, where he holds the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Chair in the Era of North Atlantic Revolutions, and offers courses on early modern Europe, on military history, and on the early modern French empire. Previously, he spent fourteen years at Johns Hopkins University, including three as Dean of Faculty in its School of Arts and Sciences. From 2020 to 2024 he is serving as Director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton.
Other recent projects of Bell include an edited volume (co-edited with his colleague Yair Mintzker) entitled Rethinking the Age of Revolutions: France and the Birth of the Modern World, which was published in hardcover and paperback in October, 2018 by Oxford University Press, and which includes an article from the charisma project. Other recent articles include an essay on the nature of modern warfare for the collective work Une histoire de la guerre (in French), a review essay on the history of liberalism for The New York Review of Books, and an essay about his father, the sociologist Daniel Bell, for Dissent.
In June, 2018 he was a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. In academic year 2018-19 he was on leave from Princeton as the John and Constance Birkelund Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. In the summer of 2019 he hosted and co-directed the inaugural session of the Franco-American Graduate Workshop on the History of Early Modern France, at Princeton.
This website provides information about his books, with a special section on Men on Horseback, and links to recent essays, book reviews, research materials, and the books' on-line appendices, plus some videos, and reviews of his work.