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What's the best book on the French Revolution for a newb?

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yoda's walking stick
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Aug 8 2011 00:50
What's the best book on the French Revolution for a newb?

What would you suggest?

batswill
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Aug 8 2011 01:07

"Tale of Two Cities",,,,,just joking,,Lol.

working class
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Aug 8 2011 04:03

Oxford History of the French Revolution

Samotnaf
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Aug 8 2011 04:23

Haven't read it, but I've heard Kropotkin's is good - only 573 pages.

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Malva
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Aug 8 2011 09:09

George Lefebvre's work on the French Revolution.

enraged
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Aug 8 2011 13:59

I would check Daniel Guerin's Class Struggle in the First French Republic.
Its only centered around the years 93-95 but it was key in showing how the Jacobins were acting like a bourgeois party, in direct opposition to the sans-culottes' interests and revolutionary aspirations.
In that respect it was in opposition to Lefebvre's interpretation of the role of the Jacobins and of the revolution in general.
Guerin was trying to show that the sans-culottes were a form of early proletariat but Lefebvre refuted this by saying they were too diverse a body and so that a popular revolution from the bottom couldnt be expected from them.

If you're keen to link anarchist theory and practice to the French Revolution, I would check stuff on the Enraged Ones (Les enragés), although i dont know what's available on this in English (the Oxford History of the French Revolution mentions them). They were a loose radical group fighting for political but also social equality and trying to bring about direct democracy. The role of the women in the group is of interest too, they founded the Républicaines Révolutionnaires group, a female-only group with social and feminist demands.
Whoever reads French can check the work of Claude Guillon on this.

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Entdinglichung
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Aug 8 2011 11:39

French historian Michel Vovelle has written some good stuff, don't know which of his books are available in English, also useful are some of the books of Albert Soboul (both were as far as I know members or close to the French CP)

S. Artesian
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Aug 8 2011 14:29

Soboul's work on the French Revolution is great; and despite, or because, of his admiration for Robespierre, Mathiez's volume of the revolution is an incredibly exciting book to read.

Cleishbotham
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Aug 9 2011 09:44

Agree with Enraged that Guerin is the most most thought-provoking if you want to understand class in the French Revolution but I thought Guerin argued (I read this in 1981 or so) that the sansculottes were a form of petty bourgeosie (artisans and shopkeepers) whilst the social class below them the "bras nus" (bare arms) were the real working class as they were day labourers who owned nothing but their abiity to labour. As I recall Guerin argued that they were the backbone of the more radical movements of the Enragés (who don't even get a mention in Lefebvre's The French Revolution). Guerin also argues that Roberspierre and his section of the Jacobin Club were brought to power to deal with the more radical movements like the Enragés and once this was done (by February 1794) the Montagnards (Robespierre's lot) had served their purpose for the bourgeoisie and were expendable, The civil war that broke out between them and the Indulgents led both groups to the guillotine by July 1794 and France to the Directory. I find Guerin a much better Marxist than either Soboul or Mathiez! Not read Vovelle so thanks for that reference Entdinglichung.

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Entdinglichung
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Aug 9 2011 10:05

there is also some good stuff on the far left of the French Revolution and especially on Jacques Roux by the East German/Yougaslavian historian Walter Markov (one of the moste creative historians in the GDR who occasionally got into conflicts with the bureaucracy because he took Marx serious) but I do not know if anything is translated into English (some stuff is available in French and Serbo-Croatian)

working class
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Aug 10 2011 04:05
revol68 wrote:

revisionist shite, had to read it for A level history.

I'm not familiar with the historiography jargon. What does "revisionist" mean?

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Gerostock
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Aug 10 2011 12:03

You're in luck. Eric Hobsbawm's expertise is the French Revolution. I'm reading The Age of Revolution, 1789 to 1948, which covers all European revolutions of that period, with a focus on the French.

Cleishbotham
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Aug 11 2011 21:30

Revol68 is right on with his condemnation of the Oxford History (although Doyle - I think he edited it is not as bad as Cobban). And I would be careful on Hobsbawm as he tends to generalise from Marx (which saves you having to think) and then does the big overview (which saves you having to research) but then it is 30 years since I read him. It's a god read though as he writes well but if you want a "lets get to the bottom of this issue" you have to follow the route suggested by Guerin and Entdinglichung. I once got one of my A level students (who could read French) to analyse the social origins of all those exectued by the Jacobins (from the lists on the walls of the Conciergerie - a must visit in Paris if you are interested in the revolution alongside the Musée Carnavalet) and it came as no surprise that the majority were of the bras nus/sansculottes classes.

David in Atlanta
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Aug 12 2011 21:10

I don't know if Guerin got the idea from Kropotkin or did parallel research, either is possible, but here's what Kropotkin said about Robespierre

Quote:
The bourgeoisie felt that here was a man who by the respect he inspired in the people, the moderate scope of his aims and his itch for power, was just the right man to establish a strong government, and thus put an end to the revolutionary period. So long, therefore, as the middle classes had anything to fear from the advanced parties, so long did they refrain from interfering with Robespierre's work of establishing the authority of the Committee of Public Welfare and of his group in the Convention. But when Robespierre had helped them to crush those parties, they crushed him in his turn, in order that middle class Girondins should be restored to power in the Convention, after which the Thermidorean reaction was developed to its fullest extent.

yoda's walking stick
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Aug 13 2011 01:54

So is there any sort of a consensus on the book I might read? I'm interested in so many different subjects right now, that I feel like I'll only be able to read one book on this topic in the near future. I don't speak any foreign languages, I'm sad to say; I can barely manage English.

Cleishbotham
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Aug 13 2011 21:54

Yoda
There is obviously a lot of people on here who have tried to get to grips with the French Revolution for years so why don't you just read one book (Guerin is published in English) then post up your views after reading it and let everyone chip in to help you on your way. Or, as soon as you ge to a reference you don't understand put it up here and we can all try to make sense of it. I taught this issue to 17-19 year olds for 30 plus years and I reckon it took me 20 years to work out something I feel relatively comfortable with. But even now David in Atlanta has just told me something I did not know (re Kropotkin's view of the French rev which looks very good). Which just goes to show there is "no royal road to science" as Marx said so you have to start somewhere but don't expect to get yourself an "acceptable" answer too quickly.

I think your problem mught be that you want a framework to guide your study. Mine is basically the Marxist one that the French Revolution was the classic bourgeois revolution. This does not mean that it was an easy clean cut affair as any rising class can agree on getting rid of a previous ruling class but then finds it difficult to agree on the new rules of the game in the world they are trying to create. This is what made the French Revolution so dramatic. But note well that the most important law they all agreed on was the Loi La Chapelier which forbade strikes and workers combinations (unions). This was 1791 (no coincidence that the same lawss were being enacted in Britain at roughly the same time). This was the age of the bourgeois revolution. That's for starters - good luck in your reading.

srsjones825
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Aug 15 2017 11:46

The French Revolution is something you could spend a lifetime studying, and still be looking for more to learn. I think maybe Peter McPhee, Liberty or Death, Yale Univ. Press might be some good recent scholarship that covers the whole revolution.

Mike Harman
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Aug 15 2017 13:50

If you're reading around the French Revolution, CLR James' Black Jacobins is a very important book for extra context and in its own right.

Haiti was France's main colony, had its own revolution as a result of the French one, and it discusses the relationship of the French revolution to the Haitian one in some depth, especially in the first couple of chapters.

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Khawaga
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Aug 15 2017 18:59

Just FYI, this is a 6-year old thread.