“Pas du tout! I am a Bolshevik.”

It is hard to see how a figure so marvelously intemperate could ever be bridled to the satisfaction of the Anglo-American mainstream. Still, the intellectual historian Robert Zaretsky has made an impressive attempt to win over skeptics in his new book, The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas. Somewhere between biography and philosophical overview, Zaretsky’s study sorts Weil’s views into five central categories. Each of the corresponding chapters integrates discussion of her personal eccentricities with analyses, rehabilitations, and critiques of her thought. The results are lucid and informative, but the restraint inherent to the medium, in this case the sensible academic monograph, threatens to undermine the extremity of Weil’s fiercely singular and ferociously subversive message.