Sunday, September 1, 1996

The Days of the French Revolution

by Christopher Hibbert

Another well-told history “written for the general reader,” this book was perhaps a bit too general. That is, it flew over its horde of major and minor characters and ruck of events, only seldom pausing to clarify things by, for example, setting out the main points of difference between the revolution’s political factions, or to give the reader a brief reminder of the identity of a person last mentioned 100 pages earlier. Nevertheless, the narrative of events, from the first rumblings against the tailles and corvées to the coup by Napoleon, was cohesive.

I knew generally of the bloodiness and fickleness of the revolution, but was still repulsed by some of the more grisly details of the massacres (especially the cannibalistic episodes). I would have liked the book to attempt to answer why the leaders were so sadistic and cruel. Did they really think they were protecting freedom? Were they being cruel to save their skins? Were they, in the end, just bloodthirsty maniacs who saw their moment and took it? Hard questions to answer. A dizzyingly bloody period of history.

three stars

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