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The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0192853967
ISBN-10: 0192853961
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Editorial Reviews


"[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).

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Product Details

  • 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: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By F. Orion Pozo on November 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
The French Revolution is one of the most significant events in world history. So much has been written about it that it can be difficult to find a good place to start exploring the subject. Well, look no more. William Doyle has written a terrific introduction to the topic that is wonderful in its scope and yet concise. In this book he is more concerned with why the French Revolution mattered and has continued to matter, that with a retelling of what happened.
Rather than a strict chronological approach, the six chapters of this book give the reader six different perspectives on the same event. Each adds depth to our understanding of the event and its place in history.
Chapter one is called "Echoes" and it relates how this great upheaval was perceived by the rest of the world not only in the newspapers of the day but in fiction and drama. The Importance of Being Earnest, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Scarlet Pimpernel are discussed. The complete text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens is included in this chapter as well.
"Why It Happened" is the second chapter. Here the author discusses the causes of the Revolution. This is mainly a description of the Ancien Regime's government and society during the reign of Louis XVI.
The third chapter is called "How It Happened." In this chapter Doyle discusses the Revolution as a series of events that stretched over a number of years. He does an excellent job of showing how each event led to the next. The violent excesses of the guillotine are much more understandable in context.
"What It Ended" is the name of the fourth chapter and my personal favorite. It is here that we see the impact that the Revolution had, not only in France, but throughout the world.
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Format: Paperback
Many relatively recent books on the French Revolution, such as Simon Schama's excellent CITIZENS, seem to presuppose a basic knowledge of the highlights and terms of the Revolution itself (the Tennis Court Oath, the Jacobins, Thermidor, etc.) but also of its aftermath (Louis XVIII and Charles X, Napoleon;s Egypt campaign, etc.). Doyle's book presupposes almost nothing, and lays out for the common reader not only a very clear and concise of the Revolution itself but also the ancien regime that preceded, and the restorations, republics, and empires that succeeded it. Best of all, it makes interesting claims in its introduction and conclusion as to why the Revolution mattered to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as an intellectual and political event, and even (for good measure) a coherent account of the battles raging among the Annales schools of historians in France up to the present day. Fine work, and a great introduction.
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Format: Paperback
For those interested in a brilliant overview of the French revolution, written concisely, combining narrative and competent analysis, including a comprehensive time line and a noteworthy bibliography, Doyle's A Very Short Introduction, is well worth your investment and time.

One of the more difficult writing tasks is to summarize an important and complicated historical event such as the French revolution, with any competence or erudition. Doyle's essay touches upon all aspects of the revolution's origins of development, including major personages, ideologies and significant events that contributed to its beginnings, processes and the revolution's present legacy in terms of its significant influence on society to present time.

In the first chapter, Echoes, Doyle proposes that one cannot look at France or visit the country without seeing some aspect of the revolution. The Eiffel Tower, for instance, was the centrepiece of the great exhibition that marked the first centenary in 1889. He continues,

"Nobody who lived in France, or visited it, could avoid these echoes, or echoes of Napoleon, who had marched under the tricolour, had tamed and harnessed the energies unleashed by the revolution, and whose nephew Napoleon III had ruled for 22 years before the Third Republic was established. (P.2)

Doyle tackles this project in six comprehensive chapters.
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I majored in history in college, and already had learned a fair amount about the French Revolution, if mainly from it being mentioned peripherally in almost every course I took dealing with the period that came after the Revolution. So a lot of the names of the principal actors and the various groups like the sans-culottes and girondistes were already known to me beforehand.

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.
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