- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; First Edition Thus edition (June 23, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0688169783
- ISBN-13: 978-0688169787
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #303,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Days of the French Revolution First Edition Thus Edition
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"Never was any such event so inevitable yet so completely unforeseen." Alexis de Tocqueville's 19th-century assessment of the French Revolution echoes the contemporary reaction to the monumental events that took place over 200 years ago. Christopher Hibbert's superb historical narrative The Days of the French Revolution captures de Tocqueville's immediacy but tempers it with the hindsight of history. Detailing events from the meeting of the Estates General at Versailles in 1789 to the coup d'état that brought Napoleon to power 10 years later, The Days of the French Revolution captures the passion and ferocity motivating the events and the individuals that most dramatically shaped the Revolution.
Originally published in 1990, The Days of the French Revolution maintains its supremacy among the plethora of French Revolution histories. An acclaimed author of over 25 historical and biographical studies, Hibbert presents complexly related events in a logical, readable format and supplies plenty of historical background and detail without sacrificing clarity or narrative flow. He writes for the general reader unfamiliar with Revolution history, introducing them to individuals as diverse as Marie Antoinette, the young lawyer Danton, the journalist Marat, and the Girondin, sans-culotte and extremist Enragé political factions, weaving their fates together, and adeptly illustrating how they influenced the Revolution and how the Revolution, in turn, changed their lives. Maps, illustrations, a chronology of principle events, a glossary, and a list of major sources supplement Hibbert's eight chronologically ordered chapters, and his prologue, which focuses on the reign of Louis XVI, sets the scene for the events of 1789. At the same time entertaining and informative, The Days of the French Revolution allows its readers to forget that they are reading a book of history. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack
"Mr. Hibbert is a remarkably good writer." -- Anatole Broyard, "The New York Times""Scene after scene with a dash appropriate to the onrushing events." -- "The New York Times Book Review"
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Top Customer Reviews
There are some drawbacks to Hibbert's book, however, for those who are not already familiar with the French Revolution and who are looking for a basic introduction.
First, as the title suggests, Hibbert's narrative revolves around certain important days of the French Revolution, including (but not limited to) the storming of the Bastille, the flight of the King, the September prison massacres, the terror, the arrest and execution of Robespierre, and the assumption of power by Napoleon. These episodes are told in great detail but Hibbert does not provide a unified narrative connecting these various episodes.
Second, Hibbert focuses almost entirely on days of violence. Hibbert does not pay much attention to debates taking place in the Conventions or assemblies, to the ideas that animated the revolutionaries, to the economic or social realities of the time, or to the social and political reforms enacted. Instead his narrative focuses, in often brutal and gory detail, on the atrocities committed during the Revolution. You get the feeling that Hibbert does not have much sympathy with the revolutionaries. While this is certainly one side of the revolution, and an important one, it is not the only side. It also gets a bit repetitive reading over and over about out of control mobs cutting people's heads off and displaying them on pikes. The violence of the revolution was real and should not be ignored but it would be nice to get a break in the narrative (and a break from the gore) every once in awhile and read about some of the ideas being discussed, or some of the political reforms being enacted.
Third, Hibbert does not really attempt to explain the various groups that were important in the revolution (the Girondins, Jacobins, sans-coulottes, the Commune, etc.) the ideas that they stood for, or their powers and functions. The most he provides is a brief summary of each group in an appendix which ultimately leaves a lot to be desired. A reader who is interested in the differences that separated the Girondins from the Jacobins, for example, will not get much help from Hibbert.
For these reasons I would say that The Days of the French Revolution is slightly less than ideal as an introduction to the French Revolution. The reader new to the French Revolution will get a basic idea of some of the major events, as well as some of the major players, of the French Revolution, but will not get much in terms of genuine understanding. So as an introduction I would give this book three stars.
Since this book is a five star book for those already familiar with the French Revolution, and a three star book for those new to the French Revolution, I have made my overall review for the book equal to four stars.
It is said that Chou-En Lai was asked his opinion of the French Revolution, and gave the enigmatic reply, "Well, it's still too early to tell, isn't it?" Certainly, the Revolution provoked enormous controversy in its own day, and some of that controversy continues down to our own times. After all, what are we to make of statements like this: "In order to ensure public tranquility, two hundred thousand heads must be cut off?" (That was Jean Paul Marat, hater extraordinaire.) Or what are we to think of an eighteen-year-old boy, sentenced to the guillotine for cutting down a "tree of liberty?"
But, if the Revolution had its monstrous and horrible days, it is necessary to remember where it came from. And Hibbert does a wonderful job of reminding us that this "man is wolf to man" stuff came in two distinct phases, the first being the centuries of the Ancien Regime, where all of France was divided into legally binding orders: the aristocracy and the church held the lion's share of the wealth while the peasants, representing about 22 million souls out of the total population of 26 million, typically lived on the brink of starvation.
"Taxes are for the little people" was a concept that the Ancien Regime took SERIOUSLY. Not only were the 22 million peasants exploited at every turn by their "betters," they were expected to pay almost all the taxes (!) - the church and the aristocracy being virtually exempt. This is the mirror image of the situation in most modern societies, where progressive taxation ensures that the wealthy bear the lion's share of the tax burden, and the poor pay little or nothing: try to imagine this situation reversed, where the poor actually support their wealthy and arrogant parasites.
More than that, the church was extremely corrupt. Higher-ranking clergy could only be drawn from the aristocracy. While the "common" parish priests were virtually penniless, the bishops and archbishops raked in the money with both claws, assuring that the church was as unjust as the general society. Worse than that, the higher-ranking clergy was known to spend this money on extravagant living and debauchery.
Similarly, army officers could only be drawn from the aristocracy. Upward mobility hardly existed once citizens had reached the middle class.
A final, crushing fact was that France was bankrupt, and headed by a stupid king and a vapid, extravagant queen: Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. (She never did say "Let them eat cake" but her thoughts about the lower classes were hardly affectionate.)
Given this situation, what to do? Edmund Burke and many others argued for gradual change, but that idea collides with the attitude of the pig-headed aristocracy, which would not surrender even a millimeter of their unjust privileges. (It is in fact terrifying to read about them doing exactly this during the early days of the Revolution, and to realize that they were simply signing their own death warrants.)
As the history progresses, and the starving masses begin to take revenge on their "betters," it becomes clear that the French Revolution was not a series of carefully planned and deftly executed maneuvers. It was the opposite: it was, at several points, a terrifying rule of the mob, and, in general, was almost completely chaotic. The hero of the moment was at the guillotine the next moment: almost none of the principal players emerged with head intact. At some points, the description of the bloody massacres requires a strong stomach, even though Hibbert is not nearly as detailed as Ann Coulter in her recent book Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America. I can't describe what happened without producing a review that Amazon won't print, and maybe that's saying enough.
In a way, the advent of Bonaparte was a relief to revolutionary France, which was getting sick to death of bloody massacres caused by intra-revolutionary rivalry, such as the "Montagnards" versus the "Girondists." But, of course, the killing did not stop with the coming of the tyrant Napoleon. It was just beginning.
An excellent book, and it has excellent illustrations as well. Highest recommendation!