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Customer Review

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Sorry People, 24 April 2014
This review is from: Citizens: A Chronicle of The French Revolution (Kindle Edition)
"What a sorry people to found a republic" wrote Charlotte Corday after despatching Marat in his bath. It is one of many telling judgements made on the generation of 89 in this excellent narrative of the French Revolution.

CITIZENS is a lengthy narrative history or chronicle, as the subtitle says. Personalities figure large in this account as they did on the historical stage. It is an exciting tale he tells. There is less attention paid to economic and social forces, but they too have their place. The fiscal crisis that precipitated the whole shebang is very well analysed and explained. The failure of the new statesmen to solve it sounded the tocsin for them, too.

Never mind how many histories have been written of the French revolution, there are numerous histories of the histories of the French Revolution. First published in 1987 CITIZENS did not chime with the anniversary mood in Paris. It presents a conservative position, not new but using modern research. The years 1789-1795 were violent and the author does not hold back from saying so. He asserts that violence was a key part of the revolutionary process, not an accidental side-effect. Further it could not be justified as the necessary labour pains of a new society; rather the revolution interrupted the economic transformation of France that was getting underway beforehand. The fiscal crisis that brought down Louis XVI was not insoluble; a constitutional monarchy was easily possible as late as 1792. In the name of "liberty" the rioting sansculottes looked backwards not forwards.

Other reviewers have dismissed CITIZENS because it is partial/one-sided/biased and its author is not a specialist. Some have suggested alternative accounts. I think that is fair. Many historians have spent their whole lives studying this topic, but despite or because their works are very lengthy and not easy to read. CITIZENS provides enough background for the reader to take on these more "serious" texts and indeed reassess the judgements of Simon Schama.

The author makes the reader really interested in the French Revolution. It is a much more gripping read than A Place of Greater Safety.
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