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Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (Vintage) [Paperback]

Simon Schama
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Mar 1990 Vintage
Instead of the dying Old Regime, Schama presents an ebullient country, vital and inventive, infatuated with novelty and technology--a strikingly fresh view of Louis XVI's France. A New York Times bestseller in hardcover. 200 illustrations.


Product details

  • Paperback: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (Mar 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679726101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679726104
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 15.8 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,464,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and the prize-winning author of fourteen books, which have been translated into twenty languages. They include The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; the History of Britain trilogy and Rough Crossings, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written widely on music, art, politics and food for the Guardian, Vogue and the New Yorker. His award-winning television work as writer and presenter for the BBC stretches over two decades and includes the fifteen-part A History of Britain and the eight-part, Emmy-winning Power of Art. The American Future: A History appeared on BBC2 in autumn 2008.

Product Description

Review

"Dazzling...stimulating...This is no ordinary book...Schama does not merely write brilliantly about people, about events, about the abuse of rhetoric, and about festivals and executions. He also chronicle with a dramatic burst of poetic imagination.... The virtues of this book Ýlie in the coruscating brilliance of dazzling display of erudition and intelligence ... His chronicle is, after all, a stunningly virtuoso performance." -- Lawrence Stone, "The New Republic" "One of The Best Books Of The Decade." -- "Time" "Monumental...a delight to read...Lively descriptions of major events, colorful cameos of leading characters (and obscure ones too), bring them to life here as no other general work has done....Above all, Mr. Schama tells a story, and he tells it well." -- "The New York Times Book Review" "Citizens, like the great 19th-century narratives it emulates, makes entertainment and erudition work hand in hand....As no other recent historian of the revolution, Schama brings to life the excitement -- and harrowing terror -- of an epochal human event." -- "Newsweek" "A fresh and elegant narrative...A brilliantly readable and beautifully illustrated account." -- "Washington Post Book World" "We are in the hands of a master storyteller...Vivid, dramatic, thought-provoking...Schama's portrait of the revolution is often surprising...His splendid recounting convinces us that much of what we thought we knew is wrong." -- "Time" "From the Trade Paperback edition." --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Simon Schama is University Professor in Art History and History at Columbia University in New York, and one of the best-known scholars in Britain in any field. He is the prize-winning author of numerous books, including Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations), Landscape and Memory, Rembrandt's Eyes and three volumes of A History of Britain. He is also the writer-presenter of historical and art-historical documentaries for BBC Television. He lives outside New York City with his wife and children. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
87 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tremendous Performance 21 Aug 2004
Format:Paperback
Citizens is a truly wonderful example of narrative historical writing - a "tremendous performance", to borrow a favourite expression of Simon Schama. The author prefers a more old-fashioned interpretation of the French revolution, which presents the revolution as a drama and focuses on the characters that determine the unravelling of the plot. This choice provides the book with the memorable stories, such as the royal family's comically feckless flight from Paris in 1791, that make it such a delightful read. It is a liberating experience to find a general historical survey that does away with the conventional, stultifying analytical distinctions between economic, social and political factors. Instead, the reader can interact directly - as well as chronologically, which makes it easy to dip in and out of - with the actors and the events without having to navigate around tedious discussions of causal significance or complex arguments with other historians.
But it is the skill with which Schama recounts events like the fall of the Bastille that makes this book unique and easily the most enjoyable modern history of the revolution in English. The embellishing vocabulary (readers are advised to have a dictionary to hand), the recurring motifs (the revolutionary obsession with heads, whether on pikes or as busts) and the vivid build-up of tension are the true strengths of this so-called chronicle. It is perfect for the novice reader and the enlightened amateur alike. Citizens demands re-reading for the richness of its description to be fully appreciated, especially its masterful reconstruction of the fascinating and sometimes disturbing culture of the old regime, which is probably the most accessible that exists. The only disappointment is that it ends with Thermidor, in 1794. After 800 pages, one is still hoping for more, which is the highest recommendation possible for this genre of historical writing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars spectacular panorama of a watershed 18 May 2011
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This has got to be one of the best history books I have ever read. Unlike his other books, which all to often get lost in sensuous detail, this one is a perfect balance of analysis and portraits of the quirkiness of the human condition. In other words, you get a flavor for the vast array of people involved, while the narrative follows well trod lines. It is an immensely complex story. The result is a masterpiece and truly great.
Schama's take on the Revolution is that what happened was far more richly textured than the crude class-based analyses that have held sway for too long. In what I believe is a convincing performance, he shows that not only was (the politically inept) Louis XVI pursuing many progressive agendas for change, but that it was the aristocrat-intellectuals who formed the basis of the Revolutionary leadership and not bourgeois or working class heroes. What made it so violent, in this reading, was the collapse of the old order and then the struggles that ensued for the control of the instruments of military and police power. It was the birth of the popular army, he concludes, and not the abstract ideals enshrined in official propaganda, that was the real legacy of the Revolution and the basis for Napoleon's later military dominance.

What makes it all such a watershed event was that it was the first example of the passions unleashed by nationalist fanaticism: the jacobans led directly to the communards and then the more purified revolutionary violences of fascism and marxist-leninism. Reading of the horrors of the Terror, this is also convincing (and frightening).

One of the greatest pleasures of this book is the personalities that Schama describes in loving detail, as they appear and re-appear at crucial moments.
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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1789 revisited 21 July 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is essential reading for anyone interested in France, history and the Enlightenment, - exactly how much light was brought to mankind by the cast behind the French Revolution of 1789? And,conversely, how dark was the ancien régime really? All the answers in this immensely readable book. If you can only read one book about the crucial moment of European history, this is the one.
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114 of 133 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Steer Clear 24 May 2010
Format:Paperback
I've read around 30-40 books on the French Revolution and all that i can conclude from this book is that Schama is, at least on this topic, a rather simple man. He adds nothing new in his reductionist narrative of individuals and scary mobs. I can admire the (not so) fresh debate a revisionist such as François Furet adds to the historiography of the French Revolution, even if i do not agree with all of their conclusions; and realise that Schama, as with most of his books, wants to make easy popular reads that will make money. However what is dangerous is that this accessible book is written with a deeply embedded prejudice that people may happily accept as a balanced review of the revolution - and my greatest fear is that will be the only book that they'll read and so their entire perspective of such a complex event will be reduced to Schama good/bad times, good/bad people, bad violence history.

If you want a quick introduction then try:
The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by William Doyle
If you want a general introduction then try:
The French Revolution, 1789-1799 by Peter McPhee
If you want more on the provinces then try:
The Terror by David Andress
For left-wing balance try Geordge Rude or:
The French Revolution by Georges Lefebvre

And finally if you want history told as an accessible narrative of individuals without proper historiographical balance then perhaps some of the excellent historical-fictions rather than Schama's attempt at history.

A truly fantastic read (and well researched)is:
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Otherwise try (but don't rely on for a proper historical analysis):
Fatal Purity by Ruth Scurr
The Gods Are Thirsty by Tanith Lee
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable. Time-wise a demanding read, but worthwhile and relevant...
Having recently watched a programme about the French Revolution on BBC 2 I wanted to learn more...

Is this (as some of the Amazon 'one star' reviewers claim) an... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Michael Adams
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Sorry People
"What a sorry people to found a republic" wrote Charlotte Corday after despatching Marat in his bath. Read more
Published 3 months ago by gerardpeter
5.0 out of 5 stars Citizens: A Chronic;e of the French Revolution. Simon Schama
Very well written and clear to understand. Much more life and humour than most history books. Helped me to follow Hilary Mantel's novel "A Place of Greater Safety" Very funny in... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Christobel
5.0 out of 5 stars Works well both for a knowledgeable reader and someone keen to learn...
Why read fiction when factual stories are so amazing? This is a major book by an academic but it works well both for a knowledgeable curious reader and someone keen to learn about... Read more
Published 8 months ago by David Poyser
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent style, not so great for reading comprehension
This is a curious book as it doesn't know if its a novel or a history textbook. This is not necessarily an issue except that there can be an uneasy trade-off between trying to... Read more
Published 10 months ago by History Nerd
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly unbalanced Too many questions unanswered
I have read and seen enough of Mr Schama on TV to know him as not a very fond "friend" of jacobinism or the French Revolution for that matter. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Javier Gonzalez Sanchez
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
informative, extensive and scholarly, a huge topic hugely covered, analytically powerful look at this extraordinary series of events
-excellent stuff
Published 12 months ago by M. R. Aitken
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
Good. No problems in placing the order or receiving the product at home. Good product as well. I recommend it.
Published 16 months ago by Gilberto Gouvêa Júnior
5.0 out of 5 stars review
fast delivery and good quality
i love simon schamas books and tv programs , love this book i have now successfully bored all my friends with the revolution.
Published 16 months ago by ianjames
4.0 out of 5 stars Small print edition for the acute of sight!
This edition seems to have been photographically reduced from a much larger hardback version. Consequently, the print is very small indeed - so small in fact that I had to buy the... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Nicholas Allen
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