21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2009
This is a very clear overview of the French Revolution, from a short description of the Ancien Regime and the origins of the Revolution to Napoleon's assumption of power. The author mentions in passing some of the scholarly debates on the pivotal moments of the era, and highlights points of interest, which the reader may want to investigate more closely. But she manages to maintain a very balanced view and a fairly quick pace; one never loses track of the overall course of events. Neely says in her introduction this is a book intended for someone to begin a study of the Revolution, and it allows someone to form enough of an understanding of the general course so that upon further investigation they will have the necessary background. That is exactly right, I think. I came to this book as a student, not as an expert; for someone in the same position, I would recommend it very highly.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2009
This book is an excellent starting point for a deeper consideration of this important event. I found this concise and highly-readable overview of events, personalities and forces to be an excellent introduction to the topic and one that will only make reading the likes of Carlyle and others more meaningful. Making history approachable, like this fine author has done, is a good thing.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2010
This book was able to introduce the main events and people in the French Revolution in a short amount of time. Before I read the book I was very ignorant of the French Revolution but I can say after reading this that I have gotten a good general understanding of it in a relatively short amount of time. I think the author achieved her goal of making it a "concise history" and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to get a general idea of what happened in those years.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2011
Wow! Exactly what I have been looking for: a brief, well-written, intelligent discussion of the French Revolution. It's a very involved story covering many years and here is one of the few authors to pull it off. Many Americans inevitably approach the French Revolution as it relates to their own, and Neely includes that here and there. It is of course mainly a European story, and we get that context primarily.It takes a lot a juggling and Neely does it. This is quite an achievement.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2011
i am interested in learning about the french revolution and took the advice of other readers who recommended this book as a good book to start with. i now have a great base to continue more in depth study. this book gave me a thorough knowledge of the events leading up to the revolution, the major and lessor players, dispelled certain myths and brought me facts that i was not aware of. i received a lot of information, cleanly. i recommend it highly.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2012
This book covered the French Revolution in a very glossed over and hurried fashion. I definitely learned a lot from it and I am less ignorant on the topic. But this book was steeped in massive amounts of opinion and generalizations that bordered on unprofessional. The whole book had the feel of a bored professor giving a passionless lecture to students at a college. The author spent large amounts of time talking about modern opinions of the French Revolution and less time telling you about the events. The Guillotining of Louis the XVI was covered in a one line sentence in the book. One of the most important and symbolic moments in western civilization and it was covered with the attitude of someone brushing a fly off of their shoulder. Then the author does not even tell you what happened to Marie Antoinette for several chapters. There was a lot of similar nonchalant attitude and purposeful deemphasizing in the book that I found annoying at best.
-I can't really think of something this book did well. I got the story and I learned and I am thankful for that. But there has got to be a better book on the French Revolution out there. In fact there are likely many many books better than this one on the French Revolution.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2011
This book provides a fairly detailed review of the French Revolution, but is concise about it (only 250 pages of actual text). The writing is outstanding. Very clear, stays on topic, and provides many explanations. Of course, I knew a few things about the Revolution before I read this book, but details of this topic were basically new to me and I learned a great deal. It does a beautiful job of covering events leading up to the revolution, as well as events during the revolution. I highly recommend this book.
on February 15, 2014
This book presents a great overview of an important part of history. Neely creates a narrative that skips along, almost novelist-style, yet while presenting dates and facts, along with an assessment of motives and results. She occasionally discusses how others have interpreted certain events and lends her analysis and why that might differ.
Regardless, the Revolution, occurring over a decade, shows just why revolutions are fraught with dangers. Getting rid of one regime does not automatically lend itself to creation of a new constitution that is fair to all and implemented by just men. Competing factions were at work from the start, and those who ended up in power used that power to eliminate those who would disagree to an extend that their disagreement resulted in any threat to the current regime. The guillotine was very active, particularly AFTER the usurpation of power by the new brokers. Often 80, 100 or more lost their heads at a singular event.
History is a great teacher, and it helps reflect on current events. For example, the basic cause of the Revolution was the growing income inequality in the country coupled with a grossly unfair tax system, all exacerbated by the country's penchant for war in foreign countries. (During this period, England, Spain, France and others were competing for control of territories in the Caribbean, among other places - and control tended to seesaw back and forth.)
First, nobles were exempt from most taxes, and the middle and lower classes had to carry the burden. Second, nobles were generally given stipends for various things, which added to the tax burden. And third, the Catholic Church was the official church of France, and in that regard, the monarchy paid priests, bishops, et al, and also provided the real estate. Couple this with years where food production was low due to weather factors, and you have a growing discontent.
In addition, King Louis XVI, although a generally benevolent king, was hard pressed to take decisive actions when called for. His inability to make timely decisions resulted in actions being made or forced upon him by those in his service who had their own political biases. This often contributed to a national rumor mill that fed conspiracy theories.
Ultimately, it was the growth of factions that organized and gained followers that led to the deposing of Louis in what can only be described as a bloodless coup. It was generally after that coup that the blood of thousands of good people was let, as described above. In addition, as an Convention of elected people involved themselves in the writing of a new constitution, they felt compelled to rule the country until a final constitution could be put into place. Of course, as they enjoyed their power, the constitution was regularly put aside. Certain serious developments were adopted, however, including a somewhat more balanced tax system that included the nobles and the rich, and the Church was divested of its power and its real estate.
An interesting development evolved as France engaged into incursions into various foreign countries during this time to take over territory, often led by power hungry generals. And this required manpower, so able bodied young men were conscripted throughout the country, leading to an even further burden on the less fortunate of the realm.
It was fascinating (as well as horrifying) to see how the eventual turning of events finally led to a new country that could take its place in the world.
The bibliography is substantial, and the accompanying maps and timeline were very helpful resources. I highly recommend this, particularly as a introduction to this historical event.