Olivier Zunz in American Purpose:
Tocqueville’s parents were imprisoned following the Revolution, but survived the execution planned for them by Robespierre only because he was guillotined first. The family benefited from the Restoration, and after the Revolution of 1830 Tocqueville swore loyalty to the new regime—hesitantly. His political position was precarious, his career prospects slim, and eager for personal independence, he set out for America with his friend Gustave de Beaumont to study penitentiary systems and test his suspicion that the key to France’s future could be found in America’s present.
In The Man Who Understood Democracy, Olivier Zunz captures not just the ambiguities of Tocqueville’s thought but his essence as a person.