- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (August 28, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019925298X
- ISBN-13: 978-0199252985
- Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 1.4 x 5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 48 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Oxford History of the French Revolution 2nd Edition
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"Traditional, scholarly, narrative history...a clear and balanced picture of the origins of the Revolution."--The New York Times Book Review
"A fair, and remarkably complete, account of both the Revolution itself and the years that preceded it...a book that sets itself to cover an immense amount of ground and ends with a clear and well-balanced final chapter in which he outlines the many gains, and the often heavy cost, of the revolutionary years ...thorough and scholarly appraisal of French cultural values."--New York Newsday
Review from previous edition... "An outstanding model of clarity and informed scholarship."--Simon Schama, New Republic
"Doyle's book, in its readability, its clarity and its balance, is certainly the best of the general studies of the Revolution that have recently appeared; it will appeal both to the general reader and to the historian. And it deals with the subject, rather than with those who have already written about it."--Richard Griffiths, Times Higher Educational Supplement (UK)
"A work of breath-taking range which deserves to reach a wide popular market. It is the fullest history to appear of the Revolutionary era, of the events preceding it and of its impact on a wider world. Masterfully written."--The Observer (UK)
About the Author
William Doyle is Professor of History at the University of Bristol and the author of Origins of the French Revolution, Old Regime France 1648-1788, and The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.
Top customer reviews
I won't review the book's contents, but I want to briefly review some of the characteristics of its prose and narrative.
PROSE: The prose is fairly fluid, but at times the sentences feel a little twisted, not due to difficult words or long sentences, but due to the structure of the sentences. Nonetheless, the prose is fluid enough to read without constantly re-reading passages or with dictionary on hand.
NARRATIVE: The book is academic in style, and its breadth is extraordinary. The author begins the book by describing the French society at large - its geography, economy, political system, administrative organization, culture, and classes of its citizens. The book proceeds at a fairly brisk pace, without emphasizing or de-emphasizing any particular points. And since the book is intended to be used as a textbook, and as a primer on the French Revolution and therefore also as a starting point for further exploration, one can easily lose oneself in all the details, without being able to distinguish between important and less important points. And for this reason, the book feels a little stuffy: there is little exploration or explanation of the causes of events; rather the reader is made to feel that one event simply follows another, without any particular causes.
The absence of deeper exploration of causes has its cons and pros. The positive is that the author remains largely non-committal and therefore gives him a clout of objectivity. On the other hand, the negative is that if one wants to understand the different theories about the causes of events, one has to search outside of this book.
Lastly, there is relatively little emphasis on the ideological angle of the Revolution. There is mention here and there about Voltaire, Burke and Paine and a few other contemporary philosophers in Europe and the US, but nothing of depth.
In conclusion, the book is a good primer on the French Revolution and the widespread effects it imposed upon the whole of Europe and other parts of the world, militarily, politically and ideologically. It's a good starting point for further exploration of the different angles and events. But as a leisure reading for one's self-education, I wish it was less detailed, with more emphasis and de-empahsis on certain points/events and causes more deeply delved into.
No, it's not America in the 21st century but France in the 18th, and it's a riveting story, whose echoes in the present are uncanny.
Usually my best reads are serendipitous, but this was deliberate and planned. After visiting Paris and reading a fictional diary of Marie Antoinette ("Marie Antoinette, journal d'une reine" (French) by historian Evelyne Lever), I realized there are big holes in my knowledge of the French Revolution, holes I wanted to fill. Mr. Google returned several hits for Doyle's "The Oxford History of the French Revolution" to the question "what is the single best book on the French Revolution?"). Click, click, download, and voilà! Many of the reviews here encouraged me to buy the book.
The introductory chapter alone (which spans almost 10% of this 496 page book) makes it worthwhile reading, with an outstanding overview of French history, region-by-region, with excellent explanations of legal terms and titles I admit I was always pretty fuzzy about.
The French Revolution often serves as a metaphor by people who do not understand its complicated nastiness (or how it was a process that occurred in waves and counter-waves over almost a century rather than a single storming of an almost-empty Bastille). France was (and remains) a much more complex place than outsiders (including myself) want to admit, but Doyle does an excellent job of pulling us into this world using facts, figures, primary sources. He is long on empirical observation and mercifully short on unsubstantiated speculation. He is a bit hard on Marie Antoinette who is also far more complex than the (misquoted) "let them eat cake" insensitive materialist most of us learned somewhere along the way, but this is forgivable because he makes his case in a compelling way. His writing style is concise, to-the-point, at times wry; think the Economist meets the New Yorker. If you liked reading David McCullough (John Adams, 1776), you should enjoy reading William Doyle.
If you want a great single-volume overview of the French Revolution, one that reads in parts like a novel (albeit a very heavily footnoted one), read this book. I found it difficult to put down.