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Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life [Paperback]

Peter Mcphee
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Oct 2013
For some historians and biographers, Maximilien Robespierre (1758-94) was a great revolutionary martyr who succeeded in leading the French Republic to safety in the face of overwhelming military odds. For many others, he was the first modern dictator, a fanatic who instigated the murderous Reign of Terror in 1793-94. This masterful biography combines new research into Robespierre's dramatic life with a deep understanding of society and the politics of the French Revolution to arrive at a fresh understanding of the man, his passions, and his tragic shortcomings. Peter McPhee gives special attention to Robespierre's formative years and the development of an iron will in a frail boy conceived outside wedlock and on the margins of polite provincial society. Exploring how these experiences formed the young lawyer who arrived in Versailles in 1789, the author discovers not the cold, obsessive Robespierre of legend, but a man of passion with close but platonic friendships with women. Soon immersed in revolutionary conflict, he suffered increasingly lengthy periods of nervous collapse correlating with moments of political crisis, yet Robespierre was tragically unable to step away from the crushing burdens of leadership. Did his ruthless, uncompromising exercise of power reflect a descent into madness in his final year of life? McPhee reevaluates the ideology and reality of "the Terror", what Robespierre intended, and whether it represented an abandonment or a reversal of his early liberalism and sense of justice.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (1 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300197241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300197242
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 438,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"'McPhee brilliantly evokes the weaknesses as well as the strengths of this thin-skinned, diminutive figure, who suffered recurrent bouts of nervous exhaustion and withdrew from the fray at vital moments. As this stimulating book shows, those who come to play a leading part in times of upheaval are shaped by events rather than controlling them.' (Malcolm Crook, BBC History Magazine) 'A fine piece of work. McPhee has a sure command of the period, has mastered the voluminous sources on Robespierre, and writes a clean, robust prose.' (David Bell, The New Republic) 'Peter McPhee's fine new life of Robespierre relies on the first hand, day-to-day accounts rather than the posthumous vilification and hagiography, and in it emerges a quite different portrait of the man.' (Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman)"

About the Author

Peter McPhee is a professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne, where he was the university's first provost. He has published widely on the history of modern France, including most recently Living the French Revolution, 1789-1799. He lives in Abbottsford, Australia.

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic biographical read 2 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really like the French Revolution and so I find Robespierre of particular interest. Peter McPhee writes about the revolutionary's life in a captivating yet factually correct manner, whilst also describing the world in which Robespierre grew up to further enhance the picture of why he did what he did and became what he became.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By dms
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book makes it clear that he was really not an interesting character in himself which makes it difficult to engage with him despite his deep involvement in one of the great events in European history
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a Fair Account 5 April 2012
By Jackie London - Published on
Robespierre is a character in history who has been condemned to the annals of infamy. Frankly, it can be argued that he deserved it. However, many works tend to consign him for actions that he did not commit. Peter McPhee presents Robespierre's crimes as they actually were, condemning the Terror and Robespierre's hand in it, yet at the same time including the mitigating factors and exonerating him of some superfluous charges. Its bias definitely leans towards Robespierre, but this is mainly out of necessity to combat some of the mythology that has grown around the man's name. Generally it is factual and very readable. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Robespierre or the French Revolution.
5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recommend this book to anyone who is seriously interested in ... 10 Aug 2014
By Dr. Michael J. Storek - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Well written book that views the work and life of Robespierre as a whole. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is seriously interested in learning more about Robespierre beyond his current - and one-sided - image.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A concise book 20 Dec 2012
By Thomas Martin - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book is a quicker read than one might expect for a volume aimed more at academics than most of the public. It is a bit overpriced for an e-book, but that is to be expected for a product with limited appeal in the marketplace. The economic reason is valid for sure. I am not a scholar, but I am intrigued by the image of Robespiere in English language films from Britain and the U. S. The Anglo Saxon world has fun with him in all the versions of " the Scarlet Pimpernel". A biased depiction for sure. The Polish/French film "Danton" apparently is the "correct' view of him on the sceen. It appears to be a trustworthy view, but the film was made in Poland at a time when the nation was emerging from decades of tyranny. Freedom of speech provided an unbiased look at the man behind "the Reign of Terror".. So I am happy to have this book to clear things up and set the record straight.
11 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disrobed 16 Feb 2012
By Christian Schlect - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Most educated people have heard of Maximilien Robespierre, a leading figure of the French Revolution. Almost all of these envision Robespierre with much blood dripping from his hands, and think of him as richly deserving of that which he eventually got--the sharp downward blade of the guillotine.

Professor Peter McPhee aims in this serious biography to give us a more responsible Robespierre, one who fought for liberty and was disinclined, even horrified, toward excesses of violence.

He shows readers the young, talented man who overcame early adversity to become educated in Paris: a hardworking man who ultimately gave up his career and personal health to the good revolution against a corrupt monarchy.

My problem: I still, even after reading Professor McPhee's book and stipulating that the French king and his lackeys had to go, think Robespierre was a left-wing political zealot who was the cause of many innocent deaths and one richly deserving of his place in infamy.
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