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The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France

3.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374273415
ISBN-10: 0374273413
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Andress offers a visceral account of the guillotining of King Louis XVI in 1793: "he was strapped to a tilting plank, which dropped his head into a brace, and the blade... plunged from above." While the British historian's graphic depiction of numerous executions is a high point of his account of the Terror, he explicitly states it was not the most salient point of the revolution. Countering the historiography of the last generation, including Simon Schama, who said, "violence was the revolution itself," Andress focuses not just on the killings but on the "grand political pronouncements, uprisings and insurrections," from the varying ideologies of the dissident parties to the upheaval of the counterrevolution that rendered France unstable for more than a decade, resulting not just in violence but also in social upheaval. And Andress follows the Terror beyond its conclusion to Napoleon Bonaparte's coronation as emperor in 1804, which brought the revolution "full circle," creating a strong central government that scorned democracy and popular sovereignty, the revolution's central tenets. His focus on such paradoxes and on the Terror as the culmination of a complex historical process rather than an unprovoked outbreak of violence, makes for a bracing historical reassessment. 3 maps. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Covering the crescendo of the French Revolution, historian Andress narrates its most radical phase, from Louis XVI's attempted flight abroad in 1791 to the 1794 guillotining of Maximilien Robespierre. To readers primed by Simon Schama's Citizens (1991), Andress will be a trustworthy guide to an extraordinary period in which hardly any event or personage is historically uncontroversial. In retrospect, the foiled royal escape was the turning point, convincing revolutionaries and the Parisian crowd of two things: the Revolution was incomplete, and counter-revolution was a genuine conspiracy, not fantasy. Grasping this dual aspect of the febrile revolutionary mentality, Andress meticulously recounts the progressive eclipse of moderate factions in the midst of foreign invasion and internal revolt throughout France. It was to master this crisis that the National Convention instituted the Terror, succeeding ruthlessly but undergoing a series of lethal political crises over revolutionary purity. At his explanatory best when invoking the interpersonal animosity and suspicion that preceded a faction's dispatch to the guillotine, Andress viscerally re-creates the Reign of Terror's deadly spectacle. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374273413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374273415
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,177,894 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Terror, by David Andress, tells the complete story of the bloody period of the French Revolution, where men and women could have their heads cut off by the guillotine just for having been suspected of harboring "counter-revolutionary" thoughts or expressing dissatisfaction with the ruling Convention. The book pulls no punches, explaining everything in excruciating detail and not hesitating to describe the executions of some of the more prominent figures of the day. Unfortunately, the book is marred by being overly politicized, as well as having some dreadfully boring prose. Combining these two issues together, you get a middle of the pack book that could easily have been a lot better.

Andress does a great job of covering the entirety of the Revolution, beginning with King Louis XVI's flight from Paris in June 1791. The first chapter delves into this issue, beginning with the event and then going back to fill in the details that led to it. In fact, this is a common technique in The Terror, with Andress jumping forward in time a bit (usually beginning with some notable event or other items of significance) and then painting the backstory. Thus, the book gets off to a rollicking start with the horribly planned and executed attempt to flee. It's almost comical if you don't realize where it's all going to lead. Andress then proceeds to go step by step through the Revolution, detailing the attempts to write a constitution (for the first year after Louis was recaptured, the revolutionaries did try to set up and get Louis to agree to a constitutional monarchy). When this failed, the National Convention assumed power.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I would rank this among the best of the latest titles on the French Revolution. Andress covers the so-called radical phase of the revolution with great skill and detail. A revisionist text, The Terror is freed from the old right-left dogmas that haunted the writers of earlier histories of the French Revolution even as late as the cold war era.

Andress is not without sympathy for the leading actors, but neither is he willing to excuse them their crimes. He does make it clear however that they were driven by a so-called "Concert of Europe" which sought to stamp out liberty and democracy in its cradle. In the process he does a solid job of the task to explaining how a Revolution born in the ideals of universal rights could descend into such bloodletting.

Perhaps one of the author's most inciteful, disturbing and likely controversial conclusions is to find parallels between the political and religious fundementalisms of 1789-1795 and today; between the Terror and the War on Terror; between the era of Robespierre and the rise of the national security state.

While the book is great in detail and an excellent choice for those familiar with the events of the French Revolution, I probably wouldn't recommend it as a first choice to a casual reader.

One thing I might add for certain. The Terror: Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France proves that the euphoric proclamation by some that we had somehow reached "the end of history" now seems naively premature.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm very glad David Andress wrote this book. It covers a subject sadly overlooked by our popular culture. The author's narration is quite thorough and enjoyable. Unlike some of the other works on the subject, Mr. Andress does not shy away from detailing the most gruesome elements of the Terror. Although not pleasant, the specifics tell us much about the psychology of the time and the mindset of the principals. In particular, this volume gave me a better picture of St. Just than I had previously and portrayed him in totality not only as a radical.

Another highly enlightening aspect of the work is the fact that not only political ideals but party programs are elucidated. We find that Heberte and Robespierre, along with the Girondists, knew frighteningly little about how the state functioned at all. These were not detail oriented people and results of their decisions often showcased just how naive they were.

While the book is easy to recommend I cannot give it all five stars because I disliked some of the politicizing Andress engaged in both in the introduction and the conclusion. I found his allusions to the War on Terror to be obtuse and unsubstantiated. Of course, this is my personal taste as, with history, I only want the facts from a historian. I'll take objectivity over color whenever possible. I grant that there is no such thing as 100 percent objectivity, but I want to draw conclusions on my own.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very concise history of the French Revolution, with emplasis on the period which was called "The Terror". That was the time when the most executions occurred, including the king and queen, and also members of the revolutionary councils, etc.. It seems that, at that time, anyone with a grievance could "finger" someone as a counter-revolutionary, and that was basicaly a death sentence. It's a gruesome work, but it tells a cautionary tale of a revolt gone out of control, even of those who initiated it. This is this author's first book for a general readership, and his lack of being able to comunicate his thoughts in a easily readable format is quite apparent. On the whole, it was a good book to read.
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