87 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tremendous Performance
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...
Published on 21 Aug 2004 by andrew glencross
114 of 133 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Steer Clear
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,...
Published on 24 May 2010 by Jacques Louvet
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57 of 86 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It must have been terrible being Marie Antoinette,
By A Customer
That, at least, seems to be what Simon Schama wanted you to think after reading this book -- which of course is fifteen years old now, a fact not mentioned in the sneaky reissue. There is no doubt that it is a tour de force of narrative writing, but let's not forget that narrative means 'story-telling', and all Schama can do here is tell ONE story about the Revolution. It's a story made up of blood-curdling violence that never seems to happen for a reason -- indeed any sense that there might have been reasons for it is submerged in splendidly-composed but morally-vacuous tales of elite sufferings. Schama really does not seem to care about the truly stunning social inequalities that disfigured France before 1789, and is content to blame those who tried to change things, while scarcely ever bothering to mention the civil war unleashed by the aristocrats who wanted to keep the population in servitude. Schama wrote this book to play up to a certain, particularly American, romanticised sentimentality about guillotined aristocrats. Given their own revolutionary history, Americans should know better. Read this if you must, it's an enjoyable romp, but don't kid yourself that you're learning why the French Revolution REALLY happened.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb book,
This review is from: Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (Paperback)
All of Simon Shama's books are worth reading, and this is one of his best. It is tremendously insightful, full of telling details that bring the period to life. It is also well leavened with humour, making it as light a read as any book on such a weighty subject could be. I found it an excellent starting point for exploring various aspects of the subject in more detail. A superb book.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really a book to study,
This isn't that much of a book to study intensly or to base a module on. However, the narrative style does solidify a firm chronological base that is essential when considering the debates on the revolution. Schama does make a case for violence being the "motor of the revolution" but he is ultimatly unconvincing in his argument. This is a flaw of his reliance on anecdotal history, however the anecdotes make the book readable. It is not vital to read this but it can be useful when adding tot he tessera of causes that one must take in to account when evaluating the revolution.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Something of an Eye Opener,
There must have been something lacking in the history lessons which I received at school, since I found Schama's Citizens something of a revelation. I had always imagined, in my simple way, that the French were starving as a result of oppression by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, that the latter and their court at Versailles simply couldn't care less about their plight, and so the French revolution happened in order to put all this right. Aristocrats supported the King and his oppressive ways, and so they got themselves guillotined.
If one accepts that Schama's account is accurate (and it is certainly hard to doubt such immaculate and in-depth research and writing), then the whole business was a great deal more complicated than I had ever imagined, and I found the author's detailed exposee of what actually happened both fascinating and in some ways harrowing too. The extent to which the revolution went 'off the rails', and the frequency with which it did so in various different directions, are brilliantly described, and I would recommend this book to anyone who is seriously interested, as I was, in having simple preconceptions dispelled with clarity and precision.
11 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The only reason this gets a star is because there is no way of giving zero stars,
This book is a neat compilation of every criticism of the revolution and the people involved that have been written in the last 250 years, regardless of relevance or factual content. Schama pretends that by telling his readers to hate Robespierre, one of the most hated men in history, he is in some way being edgy and groundbreaking. He focuses solely on the Terror and the negative aspects of the revolution and completely ignores the impact of revolutionary ideas and the declaration of human rights in France and the rest of the world. If you prefer your history books to be one-sided, positivist and with an obvious agenda, this is the book for you.
11 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Dreadful Book,
This book reveals an awful lot more about the author than it does about the subject matter. Schama has built his reputation on accessible history, but to use this reputation in an attempt to debunk the view of the revolution as a triumph of man over historical prejudice is a callous, badly researched and, in the end, transparent piece of journalistic hyperbole. If the Daily Mail attempted to write a history of the revolution, I doubt whether even it could twist events so much to their worldview. It saddens me that this book has sold so many copies in the UK, and can only imagine that the xenophobia and class-hatred that it epitomises is still alive and well.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maybe for dipping into,
I bought this as a companion to A Place Of Greater Safety which is currently my best book in the world - so I was basically using the index to explore areas of interest thrown up by the novel. The book was excellent for this - as you might expect from someone with Schama'a depth of knowledge. There is a wealth of detail and he does seem to take as his focus the revolution's effect on minor participants and the 'innocent'. I didn't feel compelled to read the whole thing - I find his Americanisms [ gotten etc.] irritating and I bought several other revolutionary texts closer to my own interests. He does write very sympathetically about Desmoulins' last letters in prison and has identified the importance of the Vieux Cordelier with a footnote about an article on the subject which I can't find anywhere. For anyone wanting a thorough introduction I should think it was pretty good.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read,
This review is from: Citizens: A Chronicle of The French Revolution (Kindle Edition)
I am really pleased to have been recommended to read this book. Very thorough and readable.It was the first book I had on my Kindle and was well worth it.
7 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a holiday read...,
I'm an avid devourer of history when on vacation, and bought Schama's Citizens looking forward to a book along the lines of Beevor's excellent Stalingrad or Johnson's History of the American People. I would not say I was disappointed - Schama takes an iconoclastic and interesting line on the various phases of the revolution - but this is not an easy read, not is it unputdownable. I'm sure those factors were not top of Schama's list (!) but buy it if you want a serious and readable version of the events of 1795-1803, but don't expect to be gripped by it. One minor gripe - does not cover Napoleon at all!
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Citizens: Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama (Paperback - 14 May 1990)
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