April 25, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 14

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    Press to posthumously award Laing Prize to Furet

    By Seth Sanders
    News Office

    François Furet

    At its award ceremony and dinner tonight, the University Press will posthumously award the 2001 Gordon J. Laing Award to François Furet for his book The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century. Awarded annually since 1963 by the Press, the Laing Prize is given to the Chicago faculty member whose book has brought the greatest distinction to the Press’s list.

    Furet is considered by many to be the 20th century’s pre-eminent historian of the French Revolution. But the later part of his career was equally devoted to another epoch-making revolution, the Communist revolution. The result, originally published in French as Le passé d’une illusion, caused a furor in France, where it sold more than 100,000 copies and was translated into 16 languages. Furet’s wife and frequent collaborator, Deborah Kan Furet, translated the book into English and the University Press brought it to English-speaking audiences.

    Described by The Wall Street Journal as “the most thought-provoking historical assessment of communism in Europe to appear since its collapse,” the book is a critical history of the ideas and passions that defined and transformed the modern era. “The Passing of an Illusion is that rare book that speaks both to the scholar and to the lay reader,” said Paula Barker Duffy, Director of the University Press. “Furet took on the monumental task of reframing our conception of communism in the 20th century, and, in its breadth and depth, his book is a model of the engaged scholarship university presses exist to publish.”

    Furet (1927 to 1997) joined the University in 1985, where he was the Raymond W. and Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought. Through his many books, including Interpreting the French Revolution (1970), In the Workshop of History (1984, University Press), Marx and the French Revolution (1986, University Press), The Revolution 1770-1880 (1988) and A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1988), which he co-edited, he helped redefine the interpretation of the French Revolution.

    Furet was a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and in 1997 was elected to become one of the “Forty Immortals” of the Académie Française, the highest intellectual honor in France. Kan Furet will accept the award on behalf of her late husband.