Customer Review

114 of 133 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Steer Clear, 24 May 2010
This review is from: Citizens: A Chronicle of The French Revolution (Paperback)
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, even if i do not agree with all of their conclusions; and realise that Schama, as with most of his books, wants to make easy popular reads that will make money. However what is dangerous is that this accessible book is written with a deeply embedded prejudice that people may happily accept as a balanced review of the revolution - and my greatest fear is that will be the only book that they'll read and so their entire perspective of such a complex event will be reduced to Schama good/bad times, good/bad people, bad violence history.

If you want a quick introduction then try:
The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by William Doyle
If you want a general introduction then try:
The French Revolution, 1789-1799 by Peter McPhee
If you want more on the provinces then try:
The Terror by David Andress
For left-wing balance try Geordge Rude or:
The French Revolution by Georges Lefebvre

And finally if you want history told as an accessible narrative of individuals without proper historiographical balance then perhaps some of the excellent historical-fictions rather than Schama's attempt at history.

A truly fantastic read (and well researched)is:
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Otherwise try (but don't rely on for a proper historical analysis):
Fatal Purity by Ruth Scurr
The Gods Are Thirsty by Tanith Lee
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 31 Jul 2010 13:29:48 BDT
This critic has depth and a bibliography to supplement the points.
Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Oct 2010 23:24:05 BDT
ECD says:
... but don't let him put you off the book altogether. Different approaches will appeal to different readers. The book itself has been around for quite a while, and is likely to be available in a public library. Go and browse it there, and then decide whether it's the one for you or not. I did, and then went and bought it, and have not regretted it.

Posted on 25 May 2011 19:21:33 BDT
Zoetrope says:
This gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but his jejune review does not even include powerful points. Yes bibliography, but just throwing titles at us is pretty lame. Come on dear sir, make some valid points, please. Schamas is a powerful achievement, as is his Rembrandts Eye's. His analysis of the mechanics of government and political economy is still spot on.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 May 2011 02:51:52 BDT
I hardly think amazon is the place for a 10,000 word critical review. I based my review on the tone of the others and my intention was to remind people what variation of books besides this blockbuster are out there with much more academic credibility. So onto some `powerful' points then... He's presented the French revolution in a narrow timeline consisting largely of a rose tinted ancien regime, faceless mob violence, along with his distinct circle of `important' individuals. Such a linear and reductionist approach completely belies the complexity of the event and obfuscates the broader issues surrounding the long project of state centralisation, new state sovereignty and the questions of the legitimacy of violence in its very varied forms. What Schama offers is one of the most radically conservative and anti-revolutionary approach to the revolution in a most partisan way. I find it bizarre that such an old school approach that harks back to Edmund Burke's knee jerk reactive `history' in 1790 has brought such finical success, being probably the best selling book on the revolution in Anglo bookshops. Perhaps I just have a misplaced hope for the public to have some 21st century objectivity rather than act like a stereotypical 18thc John Bull. No text book would dare to be as so blunt in it's damnation of the event and very few old school lefties are so simplistic when applying their political framework. Certainly the development of hitherto unknown political/cultural/state centralised violence deserves intense study and debate but Schama's approach isn't even worthy of an entrance. You say his analysis on the mechanic of government is spot on, but please tell me how many other perspectives you have read on the mechanics of the revolutionary government? Hardman's? Bouloiseau's? Lefebvre's? Hobsbawm's? Cobban's? How many perspectives have you read on revolutionary violence? Zizek's? Furet? Wright's? Andress'? Gough's? Soboul and Rude offer brilliant insights into the complexities of the mob violence and theft, their motives, their occupations, what was stolen only to be handed into the local council etc etc. I hope the love which people are giving this book is out of academic naivety and with a general innocence on the issues surrounding the French Revolution. You certainly do Not need to support the revolution to be a good historian on the subject, in fact it's often quite the opposite. Schama, however, is neither and it really does show. Might I suggest your next read, it's a short and insightful book, it's called 'What is History' by E.H.Carr (2002)...

In reply to an earlier post on 30 May 2011 21:28:02 BDT
Ian Thumwood says:
I am interested to read this comments as I was given this book as a birthday present 2 years ago and , having struggled with Schama's skewed account of British history, have been putting off picking up this book ever since. I actually started it last night and had to skip the preface as I couldn't understand what Schamas was on about. The whole book looks like torture and the small print doesn't help.

I'm not comnvinced at all by Schama the historian. Narrative history is dodgy territory as far as I am concerned and prefer original research backed up by evidence / reference to sources /archaeology. Schama's three volume British history had good moments but also tended to dismiss pre-history and took an eccentric look at the 19th century. What worries me about this book is that the opening chapter relates to the dreadful Volume II which got hung up on constitutional issues as opposed to more important issues.

I think Schama is a very poor historian indeed and a throw back to the likes of E J Thompson and Taylor which may have been ok in the 1950's but deserve to be thrown in the bin in the 21st Century as not been rigorous for today's audience.

Posted on 14 Jul 2011 14:28:43 BDT
J. Preater says:
Thanks for the suggestions. I am happy not to get on the Schama boat!

Posted on 6 Sep 2011 11:38:02 BDT
Excalibur says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on 10 May 2012 01:47:34 BDT
Last edited by the author on 10 May 2012 01:49:09 BDT
Miketang says:
I have to agree with you. But then he's in a long line of historians who have dressed up - consciously or otherwise - the prejudice of their own political or "cultural" view in the vivd narrative of selective anecdote - from Macaulay onwards. These days there's also the added danger of writing for gain or fame.

Posted on 7 Apr 2013 01:12:11 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 7 Apr 2013 01:16:04 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Apr 2013 01:15:53 BDT
I was watching his Power of Art show on the BBC, he came across as a vindictive bitter queen, and spent all his time attacking genius's like Caravaggio just because they liked to thrash a few plebs from time to time.
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