Customer Review

87 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tremendous Performance, 21 Aug 2004
This review is from: Citizens: A Chronicle of The French Revolution (Paperback)
Citizens is a truly wonderful example of narrative historical writing - a "tremendous performance", to borrow a favourite expression of Simon Schama. The author prefers a more old-fashioned interpretation of the French revolution, which presents the revolution as a drama and focuses on the characters that determine the unravelling of the plot. This choice provides the book with the memorable stories, such as the royal family's comically feckless flight from Paris in 1791, that make it such a delightful read. It is a liberating experience to find a general historical survey that does away with the conventional, stultifying analytical distinctions between economic, social and political factors. Instead, the reader can interact directly - as well as chronologically, which makes it easy to dip in and out of - with the actors and the events without having to navigate around tedious discussions of causal significance or complex arguments with other historians.
But it is the skill with which Schama recounts events like the fall of the Bastille that makes this book unique and easily the most enjoyable modern history of the revolution in English. The embellishing vocabulary (readers are advised to have a dictionary to hand), the recurring motifs (the revolutionary obsession with heads, whether on pikes or as busts) and the vivid build-up of tension are the true strengths of this so-called chronicle. It is perfect for the novice reader and the enlightened amateur alike. Citizens demands re-reading for the richness of its description to be fully appreciated, especially its masterful reconstruction of the fascinating and sometimes disturbing culture of the old regime, which is probably the most accessible that exists. The only disappointment is that it ends with Thermidor, in 1794. After 800 pages, one is still hoping for more, which is the highest recommendation possible for this genre of historical writing.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Jul 2009 15:44:23 BDT
I saw Simon Schama during a recent BBC documentary aboute Robespierre, and I was struck then by the clarity with which he spoke, and also the passion evident in his remarks. Thanks for the review above. You made my decision to buy this book considerably easier.

Posted on 13 Jul 2009 15:44:54 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 13 Jul 2009 15:45:19 BDT]
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