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The Terror: Civil War in the French Revolution
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2006
Libraries could be and have been filled with books on the French revolution, and many of them - if written for a general readership - devote some hundred pages on the period known as The Terror. Most of them manage to give the reader within that space a fairly detailed account of events leading op to the Terror and of the one year period that the Terror actually lasted.

Mr. Andress' book devotes nearly all of its 450 pages to the Terror, and this book may accordingly be truly called a "study". The serious student of the era will certainly find it well-written in the sense that the Terror is treated step-by-step, missing no detail however seemingly insignificant. The general reader (such as I) will certainly find a number of interesting new insights in this period, like the role that the Vendée and other counterrevolutionary revolts played in the radicalisation of the French revolution. This however at the price of having to wade through a vast amount of detail.

It is a compliment to mr. Andress' narrative talents that despite its very in depth study-character, it was no effort getting to the end of this book. But 'unputdownable' it isn't; the general reader will want to read this book in instalments. For the novice in this subject my advice would be to familiarise themselves with the big picture first; Christopher Hibbert's "French Revolution" (also available through Amazon)would be money well spent.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is a very well written historical narrative that, despite its title, really covers the whole of the French revolutionary period from the fall of the Bastille in July 1789 up to and beyond the fall of Robespierre in July 1794. The author conveys the spirit of the times very well - the huge thirst for change and something different from the past, which could be discerned even when the ideals of the Revolution became so besmirched with the blood of many people during the reign of terror (the majority of these not, however, being the aristocrats of popular imagination); and the attempt to create a sense of solidarity against internal and external enemies, both real and perceived, a necessary move in some ways, but eventually grotesquely distorted under Robespierre so that any opposition to his rule was seen as treachery and anti-patriotic. The disintegration into factional strife and the fall of various groups, the Girondins, the Hebertists, the Indulgents (Dantonists) and finally the Robespierrists, over a period of only a few months is excitingly and horrifically recounted. All in all, this is an excellent account of five of the most important years in modern world history, in that they paved the way for more modern representative government in the nineteenth and subsequent centuries, spelled the death knell of absolutist monarchy in western Europe (Napoleon notwithstanding) and gave birth to modern concepts such as liberty, equality and human rights. 5/5
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on 18 August 2014
The Terror by David Andress is a very good book dealing with the history of the French Revolution, with particular emphasis on the arguments, differing viewpoints and the philosophical and ideological conflicts that ultimately culminated in excesses of 1793 and 1794. It is a well-written, informative and opinionated book which makes the reader consider important questions such as, what happens to a society when all the old certainties are removed and there is no agreement on what should replace them? The only real flaw with the book is one common to works covering such a lot of people, in that it is sometimes difficult to remember who they are even with the help of the convenient cast of characters listed in the appendixes. All in all a very good book about one of the defining moments not just of French, but modern western European history.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2008
The Terror, by David Andress, tells the complete story of the bloody period of the French Revolution, where men and women could have their heads cut off by the guillotine just for having been suspected of harboring "counter-revolutionary" thoughts or expressing dissatisfaction with the ruling Convention. The book pulls no punches, explaining everything in excruciating detail and not hesitating to describe the executions of some of the more prominent figures of the day. Unfortunately, the book is marred by being overly politicized, as well as having some dreadfully boring prose. Combining these two issues together, you get a middle of the pack book that could easily have been a lot better.

Andress does a great job of covering the entirety of the Revolution, beginning with King Louis XVI's flight from Paris in June 1791. Andress brings many of the characters to life, from Robespierre to Danton and many others. Once things began rolling, things go from bad to worse as first one faction is eliminated and then another. Infighting was rife, yet the Convention was still able to keep the foreign armies, yapping at France's door, in check. This occurred despite massive food shortages, inflation, and awesome displays of violence and revolt in outlying French cities. The city of Lyon was utterly destroyed as an example when government forces finally cowed all of the rebels.

Andress writes all this in a very clear manner, but unfortunately it's also rather dry. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what's wrong with it, but I had trouble staying awake while reading this book. When I picked up this book, no matter how I was feeling, I would start yawning within a couple of pages. I loved the detailed information that Andress provided, so it had to be the prose that did it.

The other main problem with the book (and I'm aware that not everybody will find this a problem) is that the beginning and ending of the book are quite politicized. I agree that we can all learn from history and try not to make it repeat itself (except the good things, of course), but I really don't like history books that are written with an agenda. If you're going to make your case, let the events do the talking (though that can lead to some biased history books, so maybe that's not a great thing either). There's no need to handhold me through it.

With that being said, I do have some compliments for the book. While I didn't like the way Andress presented it, I did love the exceptional detail he provides into all aspects of the Revolution and the Terror that occurred at the end. There are a lot of people involved, some betraying others and some friendly until circumstances decide otherwise, and Andress is able to keep it fairly clear.

Another great thing is that he covers a lot more than just the Revolution itself. Not much is heard about the many wars and battles fought during this time, with England, Austria, Prussia, and even Spain seemingly trying to take advantage of the turmoil, but Andress covers all that too. He details the counter-revolutionary forces that gave the Convention problems (both real and imagined) as well as some of the fighting. This isn't a military book, so the specific battles are glossed over a bit, but he gives the results and why they are important. I was very pleased that the book was this complete.

The Terror is not for the squeamish, and you may get bored. But if you have an interest in the French Revolution and the Terror that it sparked, this is a valuable book with lots of great information. It's worth trudging your way through the prose. And who knows? You may even find it easier than I did. I will say that you won't be disappointed.

David Roy
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