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Vive La Revolution Paperback – 1 Jan 2003
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A great read. Smart, comic non-fiction is clearly the future -- Observer
About the Author
Mark Steel is the writer and presenter of THE MARK STEEL SOLUTION (3 series on Radio 4) and the MARK STEEL REVOLUTION. He writes a weekly column for the INDEPENDENT and is a highly popular stand-up comedian. He is a regular on Radio 4's LOOSE ENDS and NEWSQUIZ.
Top customer reviews
Mark Steel wears his political affiliations on his sleeve, and so it is no surprise that he is firmly on the side of 'the people' in the story of the French Revolution. He is polemical, biased and prone to digression the whole way through the book, but that doesn't detract from the story one bit. It's a fun read, and also informative throughout.
I actually read it as a first introduction to the French Revolution, as it isn't a period I am entirely familiar with. I rather think I'd have been better off reading a more traditional telling of the Revolution beforehand, and then reading this as a counterpoint. For every detail Steel goes into, there feels like there is probably an awful lot left out. That is hardly surprising, seeing as it covers the entire period from the marriage of Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette through to Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in little over 270 pages.
It's not a serious book and it doesn't pretend to be, but anyone looking for a light-hearted intoduction to the French Revolution could do a lot worse than read this book. If they're anything like me, however, they'll want to read a more thorough history afterwards.
(A) uncompromisingly leftie
(B) extremely funny
(C) a great storyteller and comedian
(D) a wonderful historian
(E) all of the above.
This is a very strange work of history - there's as much of Steel himself in there as there is of Danton, Robespierre & co. Steel applies his vast experience of standup comedy and ramshackle socialist organisations to provide a worm's eye view of the French Revolution. Sure, Schama's Citizens will tell you a lot more - it's four times as long - but you won't have nearly as many laughs and you won't learn nearly as much about the weird quirks of most of the key individuals in the revolution.
Steel's book is pretty good history as well as damn good comedy - comedy's always at its best when it's soundly based in absurd fact, and Steel finds no shortage of often very black humour in the circumstances leading up to and following the Revolution. His analysis of the causes, key players and context behind the revolution is all sound, and his debunking of much writing about the leaders of the revolution very refreshing.
His careful use of anacrhonism, one-liners and comparison of circumstances in France with his modern experiences keep even the most tangled periods of Revolutionary history lively and there's a few good laughs in every chapter - something you can't say about most of the books in his bibliography!
I hope this is the first of many histories by Mark Steel.
With amusing and sometimes self-depreciating anecdotes about his experiences in various left wing groups, this is definitely a good read. My only criticism is that some of the analogies he makes with modern events are so specific to the UK in the early 2000s, that readers from other parts of the world, or ten years hence, are bound to miss some of the jokes. Highly recommended for anyone who is a victim of modern historical education, and wants to know what the Revolution was really about.
The many references to today's life contribute to a perception of these historic events as actions of live beings. Not the boring history as it is taught in many school books.
I learnt a lot from this book. Did you know that
- the museum of Louvre had been a palace? (page 205)
- Louis-Philippe had called himself Philippe Egalité, and anybody called Louis could get a new name? (p. 179, 174)
- Beethoven, Goethe and Hegel were impressed by the French Revolution?
- a revolutionary new Lord's Prayer was formulated? (p. 208)
- that the political expressions "left" and "right" stem from the seating in the French parliament?
For a non-native English reader some jokes and some words may be difficult to understand, as they assume you watch TV and follow politics in Britain. Good to learn.