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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Actions speak louder than Words
For most of the last century, Robespierre has generated mixed views amongst historians. He is revered by some for his principles and sense of purpose, hated by others as a cold-blooded, self-righteous fanatic. The problem is that very little is known of Robespierre's early life, and many of his private papers were destroyed after his execution. Robespierre himself remains...
Published on 16 Jun 2012 by S. Smith

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25 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fatally flawed
This is a classic example of revisionist history. The common perception of Robespierre is of a power hungry monster prepared to have anyone who stood in his way sent to the guillotine. This isn't entirely accurate - he actually opposed many of the early calls for a campaign of terror - but then again the common perception has not been a credible one for a long time. As...
Published on 14 Sep 2008 by C. Wareham


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Actions speak louder than Words, 16 Jun 2012
By 
S. Smith (London UK) - See all my reviews
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For most of the last century, Robespierre has generated mixed views amongst historians. He is revered by some for his principles and sense of purpose, hated by others as a cold-blooded, self-righteous fanatic. The problem is that very little is known of Robespierre's early life, and many of his private papers were destroyed after his execution. Robespierre himself remains enigmatic and writers can impose their own interpretations on his actions and create their own version of him. Ruth Scurr's book is a very interesting attempt to understand Robespierre from a study of his political and personal ideas and to examine how these developed over his adult life. This is not the first time that his political ideas have been examined (Alfred Cobban did so in 1948), but Scurr also attempts to examine both his personal ideals and his moral development over his lifetime. Her main problem is still the paucity of sources and her necessary reliance on his published political speeches, which need not fully reflect his deeply held beliefs.
Ruth Scurr has specialised in the history of ideas, and in her book she places more importance on Robespierre's ideas than his actions. However, she is scrupulous in setting out the reasons why she comes to a particular view, so that one can use the background she provides to form a different view. I felt that she was a little too sympathetic to Robespierre, and in two areas her sympathy may have misled her. She suggests that Robespierre and his associates only brought about the execution of the Girondins to pre-empt the Girondins eliminating them, but produces no evidence of any Girondin conspiracy, and makes much of Robespierre's early reluctance to see Danton condemned, but less of his actions in denying Danton even the semblance of a fair trial once he had decided Danton had to go.
On the whole this is a very well written and researched and balanced book, and certainly worth reading by anyone interested in the period or the man. However, at the end of it, Robespierre comes out as someone who from a fairly early age was not only convinced that he was right, but that anyone with a different view was not merely misguided but morally corrupt. From this perception, there is a consistent path to the paranoia of his later actions, which ultimately speak louder than what remains of his words.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and thoughtful, 24 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (Kindle Edition)
One of the best aspects of this book is the fact that it can be read and enjoyed by people with varying degrees of familiarity with the French Revolution. I came to it after a fairly prolonged bout of reading but it is the first Robespierre biography I've read. Ruth Scurr has researched intensively and I like the fact that whilst she issues caveats, she does include things like 'gossip' from his secretary. Given that so few people really knew or wrote about Maximilien in his lifetime these snippets are well worth having even with a health warning. She says she is going to try to approach him as a friend, and this seems to work well. It means that she doesn't shy from giving insight into what may constitute motives; here she acknowledges and, I think, finally condemns his growing paranoia, but with the examination of his childhood, one can perhaps imagine that the desertion by his father would leave him with a mistrust of the 'enemy within'
I read this book quickly, and will definitely read it again - having it on my kindle means I have been able to add useful highlights and notes. I am also looking for the Norman Hampson biography which looks at Max from 4 points of view - hard to find.
La Révolution française et Camille DesmoulinsDantonDantonA Place of Greater SafetyCitizens: A Chronicle of The French Revolution
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49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, a new insight, and absolutely unputdownable, 13 Feb 2007
By 
M. Burton (English Midlands) - See all my reviews
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This is a fantastic achievement, and really readable with it. The French Revolution is one of those events which is difficult for the modern mind to get fully to grips with - reasonably straightforward perhaps until about 1791 and then increasingly foggy until 1794. The haziness largely centres on Robespierre, because he is difficult for us, in a (post-Marxian) world in which we think through political formulae, really to get to grips with. As he moves increasingly centre-stage it is important to understand what he is after, and why the revolution sways chaotically around him. Ruth Scurr really gets to the heart of Maximilian Robespierre (the "Incorruptible", as she continually describes him), and translates him into modern form. This is a highly sympathetic history, but avowedly a convincing one. Here is a man with a true vision of virtue, of a society of truth and goodness, and in touch with its element. If the revolution is anything, he believes, it must achieve goodness, whatever the ambiguities that involves. It is remarkable how popular that man's vision for the revolution proved to be for his people in a time of almost anarchic violence and uncertainty. This was not a bloodthirsty despot, the first of the dictators. The Festival of the Supreme Being was a sublime moment of realisation for Robespierre, even if not necessarily for his own people, and far from the Cult of Personality of the later dictators, as it has been seen. Two hundred years down the road here is a British historian dishing the "sea-green" image of Carlyle which has so influenced our Anglocentric view of Robespierre since then.

This is fine revisionist writing, clearly argued, and above all, absolutely unputdownable. The sort of book you think will take you a week, but which you finish in a day and a half.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting insight into the 'incorruptible's' mind., 11 Feb 2009
By 
S. Norris "katiemae" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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There is little information out there on the lives of the leaders of the French revolution and their motivations. The majority of reading material is to do with the Terror, how it all started or the royal family. This book not only delves into Robespierre's life and motivation but also briefly shows you the motivation of his acquaintances Marat & Danton, the other names most associated with the Terror.
Fatal Purity shows you the contradictions in Robespierre's character along with his real belief that he was right and how those around him either had to agree wholeheartedly or stand against him.
Ruth Scurr charts the rise of Robespierre's political ambitions and his change in viewpoint on the use of heath as a weapon and finally shows how he finally failed in his aim and followed his former enemies to the guillotine.
I believe not enough is known about the personalities involved in the French Revolution, especially as they were the people who changed the course of history for an entire country and helped make it into what it is today.
I would definately recommend this book to anyone interested in French or European history (& have already recommended it to my mum)
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and tragic, 27 Oct 2008
By 
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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A well written and fascinating account of the life and career of this most famous and infamous of French revolutionaries. Robespierre is a fascinating man of contrasts. For much of his life, certainly before the Revolution and for a couple of years after the fall of the Bastille, his positive points predominate - a passion for justice and for the plight of the poor, as shown by his advocacy of the poor in many court cases when he was a simple lawyer in Arras, and by many of his speeches afterwards; and his radical and uncompromising democracy, an advanced phenomenon in the 18th century. It is only really from 1792, the fall of the monarchy and the suspension of the 1793 constitution before it ever came into effect, that we see the awful side of Robespierre - his singlemindedness becoming a complete personal identification of his own views with the interests of the Revolution, and an utterly and chillingly sincere belief therefore that those opposed to himself and, ipso facto, the Revolution must die - the title of this biography "Fatal Purity" is well chosen. The story from the arrest of the Girondins in June 1793 is the story of the fall and massacring of one faction after another until Robespierre's own fall and death in late July 1794. There are some sickening, horrific and tragic stories along the way, especially those of the prison massacres of September 1792, the separating of Marie Antoinette from her children, the execution of Camille Desmoulins's wife and the many poor and working class people who fell under the guillotine's blade - it was by no means aristocrats who were its most common victims as is commonly supposed. A great and tragic read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, 2 Jan 2013
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I really enjoyed reading this book as I find the life of Robespierre interesting and I especially like how Ruth Scurr goes into Robespierre's personal life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incorruptable Portrait, 19 Jan 2010
How easy it is to look at Maximilien Robespierre and see nothing but a monster, a mass-murderer, whose fate was well-deserved, though it perhaps came too late.

Yet there is a side to Robespierre that is usually overlooked: his human side, the Robespierre before the Revolution, the Robespierre who was, arguably, as much a victim of the Revolution as those for whose deaths he was responsible.

Ruth Scurr unravels the layers of this most fascinating of men, revealing the human being within. She discovers a man of great complexity: a man who did not believe in capital punishment, yet who spilled the blood of many. He was warm and kind to those he befriended, yet he sent his closest friends to the guillotine. He was a man who believed in justice, free speech and the rights of humankind, yet he denied these very rights to those who opposed him. He dared to preserve some spiritual influence in a country where Christianity had been banned. Known as the Incorruptible, he became everything he hated. Fatal Purity is perfectly complementary to previous studies of Robespierre, and could easily be read in conjunction with Hampson's fine book, for instance.

Dr Scurr's book is thoroughly researched and beautifully written. A real page-turner, I was sorry when it ended. I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in Robespierre, and the study of how a shy, awkward, literary and sensitive man could turn into so bloody and brutal a figure, whose name became synonymous with the Terror.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Biography as it should be, 24 Dec 2008
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One of the most insightful biographies I have ever read.The Author gets into the mind of Robespierre and takes us to the eye of the storm that surrounded him.

Where I would differ from other reviewers,is that I feel the Author paints a far from flattering picture of her subject.My take is that she portrays Robespierre as a zealous, self-rightious fanatic motivated by idealogical "purity" and unable to see others as human beings, as individuals with aspirations and ambitions which might be just as valid as his own, and with which he would have to compromise.

The image of Robespierre which emerges is a rather chilling one of a man who saw people as mere specimens on which to practice his social experiments much as Lenin would do to even more devestating effect much later.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lively and Even-handed, 31 July 2014
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I read this in the wake of reading Hilary Mantel's "A Place of Greater Security" to compare the fictional to the factual account of this weird but important character. It makes for almost as lively a read as Mantel's novel. What impressed me most was that the author was totally even-handed, rather than condemning Robespierre utterly as most commentators seem to or (as some have done) painting him as a misunderstood hero. What depressed me more and more, however, was the realisation that there are still people such as Robespierre doing similar things (updated for the passage of a couple of centuries, of course) for similar reasons with similar reactions of either adulation or horror. Do we never learn?
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Gripping., 2 Jun 2006
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This is a wonderful book. Readable, passionate and yet objective.

Scurr gives an excellant biography of the 'Incorruptible' while providing the backdrop of the revolution. Very impressive.
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