5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Narrative History at its Best,
This review is from: The French Revolution (Paperback)
The French Revolution has been called the greatest event in European history since the fall of the Roman Empire, an epic world shaking event that helped shape the modern world... but it's also a period of history that I knew very little about. Reading this book helped change that. That's no small feat as the French Revolution is a confusing and murky era, one with many strangely named factions squabbling amongst each other, and certain regimes, such as that of the Jacobin Committee of Public Safety, coming to power for a year only to be ousted by another faction, in what seems like an endless series of violence and blood letting.
The late Christopher Hibbert manages an impressive feat of distilling these events and personalities and creating a great, readable narrative history from it. Hibbert's prose is lively and lucid, and it really does help illuminate the figures from the period, such as the misunderstood Marie Antoinette (who never said "Let them eat cake"), the concerned would be assassin Charlotte Corday, the larger than life Georges Danton, the rabble rousing Jean-Paul Marat and of course, the 'bloody dictator' Robespierre. Hibbert's skill is bring these long dead and dusty figures back to life, and to humanise them - so that their struggles don't really read like a tedious list of events from times past, but as real moments lived through by flesh and blood people, not by simple names and dates in a book.
His descriptions are evocative and fascinating, and cover such small trivial details of King Louis XVI's eating habits and hobbies at the court of Versailles, to the 'big events' such as the round the clock guillotining and sham trials during the Reign of Terror. The book also covers a wide section from French society, so we have accounts from the aristocrats, but we also get descriptions of life on the lower levels of society too - which tend to be far more interesting.
The book has been criticised by others for being to Anglo-centric in its views, or for being to sympathetic towards monarchists and aristocrats, or for dwelling on the barbarity of the Terror and less on the long term achievements of the Revolution. It also doesn't go into to much analysis of the events themselves, but being a narrative history I didn't find this a problem. I believe that too much analysis would have broken up the prose and made it a much more dull book to read.
Despite these flaws this a great book , well worth reading for anyone with an interest in this period of history. I suppose its a testament to the now sadly deceased author that his book has inspired me to want to read up more on this fascinating era of history.