The French Revolution marks the foundation of the modern political world.
It was in the crucible of the Revolution that the political forces of conservatism, liberalism and socialism began to find their modern form, and it was the Revolution that first asserted the claims of universal individual rights, on which our current understandings of citizenship are based.
But the Terror was, as much as anything else, a civil war, and such wars are always both brutal and complex.
The guillotine in Paris claimed some 1,500 official victims, but executions of captured counter-revolutionary rebels ran into the tens of thousands, and deaths in the areas of greatest conflict probably ran into six figures, with indiscriminate massacres being perpetrated by both sides. The story of the Terror is a story of grand political pronouncements, uprisings and insurrections, but also a story of survival against hunger, persecution and bewildering ideological demands, a story of how a state, even with the noblest of intentions, can turn on its people and almost crush them.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 448 pages, Section: 16, b/w
- Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
- Publication Date: 07/09/2006
- Category: European history
- ISBN: 9780349115887
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Review by john257hopper
This is a very well written historical narrative that, despite its title, really covers the whole of the French revolutionary period from the fall of the Bastille in July 1789 up to and beyond the fall of Robespierre in July 1794. The author conveys the spirit of the times very well - the huge thirst for change and something different from the past, which could be discerned even when the ideals of the Revolution became so besmirched with the blood of many people during the reign of terror (the majority of these not, however, being the aristocrats of popular imagination); and the attempt to create a sense of solidarity against internal and external enemies, both real and perceived, a necessary move in some ways, but eventually grotesquely distorted under Robespierre so that any opposition to his rule was seen as treachery and anti-patriotic. The disintegration into factional strife and the fall of various groups, the Girondins, the Hebertists, the Indulgents (Dantonists) and finally the Robespierrists, over a period of only a few months is excitingly and horrifically recounted. All in all, this is an excellent account of five of the most important years in modern world history, in that they paved the way for more modern representative government in the nineteenth and subsequent centuries, spelled the death knell of absolutist monarchy in western Europe (Napoleon notwithstanding) and gave birth to modern concepts such as liberty, equality and human rights. 5/5