- Paperback: 152 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 6, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192853961
- ISBN-13: 978-0192853967
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.6 x 4.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 51 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
All Books, All the Time
Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
"[Doyle] writes on the French Revolution with more understanding, balance and clarity than any other historian, living or dead."--Tim Blanning, University of Cambridge
About the Author
William Doyle is Professor of History at the University of Bristol. His publications include The Oxford History of the French Revolution (1990), Origins of the French Revolution (1999), The Old European Order 1660-1800 (1992), and forthcoming from OUP, Old Regime France (2001).
Top customer reviews
Doyle's book is a masterpiece of concision and exposition. It stands as a model of intellectual clarity. As expected, it provides a chronology of important events (and helpfully summarizes them in a time-line at the end of the book). Importantly, Doyle gives the Revolution context: "Why it happened", "How it happened", "What it ended", "What it started" and "Where it stands" are chapter headings and the author delivers authoritatively, trenchantly and succinctly in each category.
Arguably, without the French Revolution, Western forms of governance would have evolved much differently than they did. Doyle notes, "Before 1789 there was no such thing as a revolutionary. Nobody believed that an established order could be so comprehensively overthrown. But once it was shown to be possible, the history of France in the 1790s became the classic episode of modern history, whether as an inspiration or warning, a model for all sides of what to do or what to avoid." Enlightenment ideals clearly influenced both the American Founders and those of Revolutionary France, but their expression took different forms in each case. Both shared goals of liberty, toleration and parliamentary government. France honed them to a sharper point and overthrew an entrenched order (nobility, clergy), attempting to re-organize an entire society based on rational ideas. This was implemented in a more abstract and possibly inchoate form in the US, but the situation in America was tangibly different than it was in 1787 Europe. One consequence of that difference was a concerted counter-revolutionary effort undertaken by reactionary elements of the ancien regime in Europe. The counter-revolution was met with the Terror: an expected development.
As Doyle points out, the baleful influences of powerful and entrenched wealth, religion, habit, superstition and self-interest lead progressively to the unseating of the Jacobins (admittedly due, in part, to their own excesses) and the Thermidoreans. The Estates were supplanted by the National Assembly, the Convention and finally, with the demise of the Revolution itself in the 1799 "Eighteenth Brumaire" of Napoleon I. Doyle helpfully picks up the trail with the Bourbon Restoration, the unseating of Charles X and highlights from subsequent developments up to the modern era. These include the use of levée en masse and ideologically-based international conflicts with their resulting mass casualties (Doyle cites over 5 million European deaths in the wars undertaken against the old regime between 1792-1815) and revolutionary terror. As Churchill noted in another context, "Wars between peoples will be worse than those between kings" and it probably follows that ideological-theological wars will be worse still.
A major criticism of the Revolution is, of course, the Terror. Doyle addresses that point this way: "The (French) Revolution symbolized the assertion of political will against the constraints of history, circumstance, and vested interest. Revolutionaries soon found themselves learning the hard lesson that will alone is not enough to destroy the old regime. It fought back, and it is the strength and determination of resistance and counter-revolution that largely explains the ferocity of the terror...many of the things that revolutionaries had sought to destroy in and after 1789 were still there or had rapidly re-emerged."
Events in the early 21st century appear to be closing the circle. As Doyle states, "What has defeated the revolutionary impulse in the long term is the persistence of cultural diversity. Rationalizing ideologies...have never succeeded in effacing the importance of less rational sources of identity in habits, traditions, religious beliefs, regional and local loyalties, or distinct languages." Perhaps that's the most important lesson of the Revolution, as it seems to have played out that way in just about every instance (look not only to the failures of the Communist enterprise, but also to the demise of the "Arab Spring").
Looking forward, Doyle concludes that, "It (the Revolution) was a portent of many other failure of reason in the face of human resistance or indifference. And with the collapse since the mid-19880s of most of the world's regimes of Communist universalism, these forces have re-emerged with renewed vigor...As the bicentenary of 1989 recedes, what was intended as a celebration of enduring values launched by the Revolution begins to seem more like their funeral." And perhaps this 2001 book was prescient: look no farther than home, where religion now intrudes into the public sphere; where corporations and other entrenched, moneyed interests are seemingly all powerful; and where the surveillance-police state, with it's modern equivalent of royal lettres de cachet, secret courts and general warrants are perceived as acceptable. History never repeats itself; people always do.
Well, as some other reviewers have noted, the book gives the barest possible narrative outline of the Revolution itself, so if you're looking for a blow-by-blow account of what happened from, say 1789-1795, then go for Jeremy Popkin's book on the same topic.
Instead, this book offers an excellent overview of what the Revolutions more long-term effects were, and how the Revolution has been seen and imitated in the two centuries that have followed it. In the first chapter, it also discusses in brief the old regime that was replaced by the Revolution, detailing the weaknesses that led to its violent fall. Without this key introduction, the discussion following it would be acontextual and I found myself continually leafing back to it, particularly since I knew so little about the period before reading the book.
The bibliography provides a great guide to further readings.
In sum: the book is just what it says it is and couldn't be more concise or informative. Anyone who's heard the French Revolution being discussed, knows a little about European history already, and wants to know more about both is well-advised to try this book.