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The Coming of the French Revolution, Bicentennial Edition Paperback – 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0691007519 ISBN-10: 0691007519

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Editorial Reviews


"Much more than a history of 1789. . . . A synthesis, conveying a philosophy of the Revolution as a whole, such as could be written only by a seasoned scholar. . . . The smooth, careful translation preserves the literary merit of the French prose."--American Historical Review

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691007519
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691007519
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 8.2 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,993,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Published in 1939 on the eve of WWII and the Vichy Regime (which burned 8,000 copies), Lefebvre's account of the event which initiated the modern era in the West remains the most accesible and readable of any work on the subject before or since. Lefebvre's Marxist analysis of the event (the dominant interpretation until recently) may appear archaic to contemporary readers. Nevertheless the work is a highly enjoyable analysis of the various sectors of French society and how they contributed to the Revolution. The flowery or arcane scholarly knowledge of later accounts pales before Lefebvre's engaging prose. All in all, a highly recommended work.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Rouse on August 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
Lefebvre's account of the coming of the French Revolution has stood the test of time, and is just as important now as when it came out in the 1950s. Lefebvre perceptively identifies not one, but four separate revolutions which built upon each other and created what we now call the French Revolution. He clearly shows that the nobles began the revolt in an attempt to gain more power over the king. The revolution quickly took a different turn when the bourgeois jumped in and attempted to gain some power for themselves, which caused the whole endeavor to plummet into chaos as the general populace and peasants appropriated the revolution for themselves. As far as describing the different streams flowing together to form the Revolution, Lefebvre succeeds brilliantly.

Unfortunately, there are several problems which prevent this from being a great introduction to the French Revolution. First, Lefebvre is not always a clear writer, and is very hard to follow from time to time, though part of this problem may be because the english edition I am reviewing is translated from the original french. Second, he assumes a detailed knowledge of the philosophical and political situation at the time of the Revolution. If you don't already have an adequate knowledge of this, it will be a very hard to keep up with what he is talking about. The most annoying problem, however, is the vast number of names Lefebvre throws around. He constantly says so-and-so joined such-and-such a group or did such-and-such a thing, and he seems to think that we will realize that this is somehow important. Unfortunately, the average reader will have no idea who the majority of the people he named were or what their importance was. I, for example, know the major figures (Robespierre, La Fayette, Danton, etc.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael A Neulander on December 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
This was required reading for a graduate course in the history of the French Revolution. Georges Lefebvre's life was spent studying peasant life before and during the French Revolution and writing about "history from below." In his seminal book The Coming of the French Revolution, he essentially divided the Revolution into "four acts" which were played out by the revolts of the aristocracy, bourgeoisie, the urban masses, and finally the peasants; ultimately culminating in the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Lefebvre's analysis of the composition and concerns of France's social classes, nobility, bourgeoisie, and peasants, and their role in the prelude to the Revolution was most illuminating. He masterfully used his extensive years of research to lucidly explain how the Revolution essentially occurred in four phases. Although other countries in Europe had a similar social strata, Lefebvre agreed with Alexis De Tocqueville that reform came more peaceably to those countries than it did in France. Both Lefebvre and Tocqueville noted that one of the leading factors that led to the French Revolution was its oppressive tax burden on the peasants and the unfair socio-economic structure wherein the Church and nobility were exempt from taxation. Since the French monarchs desired to rule "absolutely," they successfully kept the aristocracy and Church members from utilizing their traditional desires to exercise any political control that would rightfully be theirs, as in other European countries, by making them tax exempt. This focused all political power in the hands of the monarch, which he controlled through his royal counsel.Read more ›
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Johnson on September 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
In my study of revolutions I have always been interested in two basic questions- what were the ideas swirling around prior to the revolution that influenced people to see the need for revolution and the related question of how those ideas played out in the struggle for power. The study of the French Revolution most clearly presents those two phenomena in all their manifestations. Professor Lefebvre was a well-known and in his time a pre-eminent, if not the pre-eminent bourgeois historian of the French Revolution. I have reviewed his major general work on the French revolution elsewhere. Here, in this shorter work, he presents the events of 1789 as they unfolded and an analysis of what they meant in the period immediately before the revolution when all hell was breaking loose in French society.

If one can talk legitimately about a sociology of revolutions then Professor LeFebvre has dramatically vindicated such sociology by presenting all of the factors that goes toward such a study in the early period of the French revolutionary experience. Clearly the Old Regime, represented in the person of King Louis XI, was no longer capable of ruling in the old way and the `people' were no longer satisfied, for a myriad of reasons, with being governed under the premise of the divine right of kings. The struggle to turn from subjects of a monarch to citizens of a republic, a question of capital historic importance in human experience, finds its most dramatic expression in this revolution. Furthermore, vast segments of society from the liberal nobility and clergy to the nascent bourgeoisie to the working classes (the so-called sans culottes and other plebian urban elements) to the various layers of the peasantry each in their turn were willing to unite around that premise.
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