In one of his many learned disquisitions on food and the history of food, Revel noted that for centuries the French would not eat tomatoes. At one point they considered them poisonous. Ah well, at one point they had the same horror of that stupendously esculent provender served between the magnificent Golden Arches. Now that the French have had some time to think about it, many chic Parisians even eat their Big Macs with a tomato elegantly slapped aboard. Revel was ahead of his time.
I met him in the mid-1970s and knew him for his journalism. His three-volume history of Western thought was beyond me, but his journalism, appearing in the French magazine L'Express and also in English publications, was learned and lively. His French was clear and understandable even to an American with only a couple of years of college French. He was enormously erudite, gruff, and sardonic. During the Cold War when his fellow Europeans in large numbers idolized Castro and Mao, Revel mocked them all. To him the evidence was clear. Behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains was tyranny and economic futility. In America there was hope. In his 1970 book, Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution, he notified anti-American leftists that the great revolution of the 20th century would come from America where the American notions of democracy and economics would overwhelm the "Socialist revolution."
Revel had been a man of the left in his youth, and by the time I knew him he was still unsure about some of the values that are now considered conservative, at least here in America. In the late 1970s he was unsure about Ronald Reagan, but seeing the President's resolution against communism he came to admire him. He was also, contrary to what some of the obituarists are saying, unsure about Milton Friedman and Friedman's brand of free-market economics. Actually, he was slower to accept Friedman than he was to accept Reagan. This was typical. For the intellectual of the left it was always easier to reject communism and accept anti-communism. To reject socialism was more difficult. In America Norman Podhoretz showed the same reluctance.