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Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution Hardcover – April 18, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (April 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805079874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805079876
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #639,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The short, violent life of Maximilien Robespierre was a mass of contradictions crowned with a supreme irony: this architect of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror would in July 1794 be executed by the same guillotine to which he had consigned so many others. Cambridge University historian Scurr says she has tried to write a biography that expresses "neither partisan adulation nor exaggerated animosity," but even she must conclude that with the Terror, he "kept moving through that gory river, because he believed it necessary for saving the Revolution. He can be accused of insanity and inhumanity but certainly not of insincerity." Robespierre can also be accused of being a revolutionary fanatic who hated atheists, and "became the living embodiment of the Revolution at its most feral"; a dedicated upholder of republican virtues whose hands were smothered in blood; a fierce opponent of the death penalty who helped send thousands to their deaths; and a democratic tribune of the people who wore a sky-blue coat and embroidered waistcoats so aristocratic they wouldn't have been out of place at the court of the Sun King. Scurr's first book scores highly in unraveling not only her subject's complexities but those of his era. 2 maps. (Apr. 29)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The name Maximilien Robespierre seems to embody the excesses that contributed to the deterioration of the French Revolution; his name is synonymous with the expression "Reign of Terror." Born in the provincial city of Arras, the lawyer Robespierre carved a significant place for himself in the destruction of the ancien regime, but in 1794 he fell under the machine of terror he had greatly contributed to creating and was himself guillotined. Scurr is to be applauded--and read, of course--for bringing the intricacies of the revolutionary philosophies and actions to a readily comprehensible level; as this author maintains, "To understand [Robespierre] is to begin to understand the French Revolution." Robespierre was a peculiar personality, distinctive in ways that were not all positive, and here he is as accurately assessed as hindsight permits. For the general reader, then, this is not simply a well-balanced, evenly shaded portrait of the man and his motivations, mistakes, and achievements but also a helpful explanation of an event that makes our American Revolution seem straightforward and of undeniable good sense. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

A well researched and well written book on the life of Maximilien Robespierre.
Shaun Beaty
I found this book to be one of the most interesting books I have read on the French Revolution and Robespierre.
lilly
The story depicted in the book is quite different from what was written, and omitted, in that review.
Harmonious

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 64 people found the following review helpful By JOHN A. BROUSSARD on January 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"That man will go far. He believes what he says."

It was Mirabeau, an astute politician in his own right, who recognized that Robespierre, when others regarded him as a "self righteous and hypocritical prig," was not what he first appeared to be.

Scurr does a remarkable job of uncovering those qualities which led to Robespierre's rise to power and of explaining the features of his personality which made his name virtually synonymous with bloodthirsty tyranny.

Lacking even a smidgen of charisma, a poor speaker, and paranoid even when he was still an obscure attorney in the provincial town of Arras, the young representative to the national Convention showed little evidence of ever achieving either fame or infamy. With the outbreak of the revolution, he had managed to get himself elected to the Convention, and from then on he perfected his political skills. Extemporaneous speeches were replaced by long and carefully prepared written ones. New allies were found and cultivated. He quickly surrounded himself with sycophants. Above everything else, he exuded patriotism.

But underlying it all was paranoia--the conviction that enemies of the state were hidden in every crack and crevice, that those enemies (in many instances the newspapers which didn't share his views) were selectively threatening him because of his loyalty to the new French Republic. To that was added his own reluctance to ever admit mistakes, doing so only by blaming others for having deceived him, for having given him false information. His answers were always the same. If a remedy failed, then increase the dosage. If the deaths of a dozen "enemies" (including many of his rivals) were replaced by two dozen more live ones, then two dozen deaths were the answer.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Harmonious on October 16, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was surprised to read in the very first review for the book "Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution" (on Amazon's webpage for that particular book), under the banner of "No longer the Incorruptible", a scathing attack on the character of Maximilien de Robespierre. The author of that review went beyond thrashing Robespierre's character into, what I believe it is, an effort to belittle Robespierre's crucial contributions to the French Revolution and the enduring and important message that that event (the French Revolution) evokes on all the persons that read about it.

First of all, I remember that Ms Scurr took the pain to stress that the book was not meant to absolve nor condemn Robespierre. After finishing the book, I can attest that she was quite successful at being even handed and fair. The author of that review, although entitled to his opinion, left the impression (at least on me)that Robespierre, somehow, while embodying all that is evil and, while being utterly devoid of any leadership skills, rose to be the "top man" at the helm of the French Revolution. The story depicted in the book is quite different from what was written, and omitted, in that review.

Now, going into the merits of the book, I have to say that it is never dull, it is concise, clear, learned, even enthralling. Judging by this, Ms Scurr's first literary effort, I can foresee the birth of a star. Ruth Scurr is a product of both Oxford and Cambridge. Buying and reading this book is money well invested.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Josepha Josephine Wilkinson on January 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
How easy it is to look at Maximilien Robespierre and see nothing but a monster, a mass-murderer, whose fate was well-deserved, though it perhaps came too late.

Yet there is a side to Robespierre that is usually overlooked: his human side, the Robespierre before the Revolution, the Robespierre who was, arguably, as much a victim of the Revolution as those for whose deaths he was responsible.

Ruth Scurr unravels the layers of this most fascinating of men, revealing the human being within. She discovers a man of great complexity: a man who did not believe in capital punishment, yet who spilled the blood of many. He was warm and kind to those he befriended, yet he sent his closest friends to the guillotine. He was a man who believed in justice, free speech and the rights of humankind, yet he denied these very rights to those who opposed him. He dared to preserve some spiritual influence in a country where Christianity had been banned. Known as the Incorruptible, he became everything he hated. Fatal Purity is perfectly complementary to previous studies of Robespierre, and could easily be read in conjunction with Hampson's fine book, for instance.

Dr Scurr's book is thoroughly researched and beautifully written. A real page-turner, I was sorry when it ended. I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in Robespierre, and the study of how a shy, awkward, literary and sensitive man could turn into so bloody and brutal a figure, whose name became synonymous with the Terror.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alan D Brewer on December 9, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A brilliant biography of Robespierre and a reliable, illuminating history of revolutionary France. Scurr is at her best when she analyzes the political factions fighting for supremacy, and she brings all the key characters to life: Mirabeau, Danton, St. Just, Brissot, and many, many others. If you want to make up your own mind about Robespierre this book supplies all the evidence and nuance you need. Ultimately, Robespierre remains elusive and is, as Scurr's well chosen title suggests, the captive and victim of his own "fatal purity." You will keep this book on your shelf for years to come.
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