The name Sade has become synonymous with cruelty. To some he was a monster and a criminal and nothing more; to others, a literary genius; to still others, an apostle of freedom who dared to expose society's hypocrisies in sexual matters. But who was the real Marquis de Sade? In this definitive biography, the first to have complete access to the Sade family archives, Maurice Lever brilliantly reconstructs the life and times of the author of Justine and The 120 Days of Sodom. Bringing the eighteenth century to life as vividly as Simon Schama does in Citizens, Lever paints a minutely detailed portrait of the aristocratic milieu that produced the "divine marquis." The exquisite subtleties of this hierarchy, where Sade was not alone in thinking that his inferiors existed for his pleasure, emerge from hundreds of letters in which the men and women of the past speak in their own voices. In Sade we learn how a count went about seeking a suitable wife for his son; how a libertine courted an opera singer; how a police spy described the debauches of dukes and bishops for the delectation of the king at Versailles. Above all, we find a society headed for ruin. Sade gets caught up in great events. He is imprisoned in the Bastille just before it is stormed. Years later he is incarcerated in a revolutionary prison, sentenced to die on the very day that Robespierre is deposed. He escapes the Reign of Terror only to run afoul of that other tyrant, Napoleon, who is persuaded that this by now elderly, corpulent man of letters poses a mortal danger to the greatest empire the world has ever seen. This was a life, then, of swashbuckling adventure, narrow escapes, wild abandon, and bloody crime. Yet the marquis was not unloved. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the book is Maurice Lever's analysis of the relation between the marquis and his wife, a demure, religious woman who tried to rescue from persecution the man who betrayed her with her own sister. Freud would have found it fascinating, and so will any reader curious about "dangerous liaisons" and the extremes of human behavior, irresistibly readable, Sade is a monumental work that offers an extra ordinary portrait of a life, a time, and a love - in all its splendor and perversity.