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Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Volume 1 (1989)

by Simon Schama

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,833334,010 (4.05)133
This award-winning, worldwide bestseller is an authoritative social, cultural and narrative history of the French Revolution.
Recently added byFoleyStacksLibrary, RafikMankarious, _adam, Harem73, private library, ChrisVS, calroll, solson899
Legacy LibrariesGillian Rose
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    Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution 1793-1794 by Olivier Blanc (Luchtpint)
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    Orphans on the Earth: Girondin Fugitives from the Terror, 1793-94 by Bette W. Oliver (Luchtpint)
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    The Jacobin Republic Under Fire: The Federalist Revolt in the French Revolution by Paul R. Hanson (Luchtpint)
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    The Life and Times of Robespierre by Luigi Mario Pizzinelli (Luchtpint)
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    The Terror: The Shadow of the Guillotine: France 1792-1794 by Graeme Fife (Luchtpint)
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    Twelve Who Ruled : The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution by R. R. Palmer (Luchtpint)
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    Vrijheid, gelijkheid en de broederschap van Kain en Abel: Getuigenissen en documenten over de Franse Revolutie by E.M. Janssen Perio (Luchtpint)
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    A New Dictionary of the French Revolution by Richard Ballard (Luchtpint)
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    The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture In the Golden Age by Simon Schama (John_Vaughan)
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    Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France by Lucy Moore (PaolaF)
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    The Sans-Culottes by Albert Soboul (asukamaxwell)
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    Godfather of the Revolution: The Life of Philippe Egalite, Duc d'Orleans by Tom Ambrose (Luchtpint)
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    The Unseen Terror: The French Revolution in the Provinces by Richard Ballard (Luchtpint)
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    rebeccanyc: Hugo's work is largely fictional; Schama presents a fascinating historical and cultural history of the French revolution.

(see all 21 recommendations)

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» See also 133 mentions

English (31)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (33)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Covers the French Revolution from preconditions to the death of Robespierre. The subject is practically custom-made for this reader-friendly narrative format: a series of key plot points with spectacular imagery including the Tennis Court Oath, the Bastille, various marches and riots, the guillotine, the fate of the royal family, Marat in his bath, etc. Schama layers in several asides that add flavour and a strong sense of the period such as Jean Jacob, a spectacularly old man being hailed as the spirit of the nation, and Theroigne de Mericourt dressed in flamboyant red, marshalling the women's march. Eight hundred pages makes for a long saga but it is never stale, and the many inserted images (paintings, portraits, propaganda) help break things up.

In high school I'd imagined the Revolution as the act of a united people claiming their rights and freedoms, a designed and concerted effort to establish something new and modern - a mirror image of the American Revolution from a decade earlier. Now I see a monarchy overthrown almost haphazardly when it didn't deliver on promises that it didn't realize it was making; first by a nobility grown heady on Rousseau with visions of a utopian society, and second by population that perceived themselves the victims of royalist conspiracy - a designed-to-be-poor economy that starved them, backed with inconsistent taxation policies inconsistently applied.

When the new government - almost entirely composed of the upper classes - tried to right these wrongs, only then did they perceive the difficulties involved. Their solutions were more drastic than anything the king had tried, leading to finger pointing and recriminations among themselves as foreign powers threatened and the economy only worsened. The population remained restless, swayed by whoever accused loudest. One at a time weaker opponents were eliminated in the Revolution's name - royalists first, then moderates - until only those extremists were left who were willing to create a police state that at last harnessed violence. Eventually the monster ate itself, and it only remained for a man like Napoleon Bonaparte to pick up the pieces.

Schama wears his opinions on his sleeve, sometimes in flat assertions that he boldly states run counter to prevailing views, sometimes in amusing sarcasm when noting strategic errors: "If [the king] had wanted to invent reasons for journalists to accuse him of considering the rights of foreign dynasts over French patriots, he could hardly have done a better job." Being a bit too demanding for an introduction to the subject, my highschool memories provided just enough background. Where those lessons offered the bare bones, this book is the muscle. ( )
1 vote Cecrow | May 8, 2022 |
One of the most enjoyable history books I have ever read, although I have heard rumours that Schama may not be one hundred per cent correct with some of the history. Citizens covers the French Revolution, from the spark to its place in history and involving all the major figures, including the great Talleyrand, surely everyone’s favorite historical figure. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Sep 27, 2020 |
An exceptionally well-written an accurate history. Schama's incredibly deep knowledge and understanding of the events and key figures of the French Revolution is translated into a colorful and enlightening epic. One gets the feeling that the author's insights have led you to a balanced understanding of the reasons for how and why those tumultuous events unfolded the way they did. Although the Terror has traditionally been portrayed as mob violence, Citizens gives a more insightful perspective, taking into account the treason of the French monarchy, the impending threat of invasion by the monarchies of other countries, and the royalist uprisings outside of Paris intended to thwart the rise of liberty in France. It was not surprising that desperate and ruthless measures were taken to protect that which the people had fought so hard to achieve.
A wonderfully enjoyable read.

( )
  MatthewFrend | Jun 30, 2020 |
Wow! Schama is quite a writer, and the French Revolution gives him a lot of good material to work with. Schama's thesis is that brutal violence was not just an unfortunate aspect of the Revolution but lay at its very heart. With the caveat that Schama sometimes addresses adult themes (like, in this book, the sexual slanders made against Marie-Antoinette), I give his work an enthusiastic recommendation. ( )
  cpg | May 16, 2020 |
I bought this book when it came out in 1988 for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. It has patiently sat on my shelves all these years and it was worth the wait. It sad to think that I may never get to read some of the books I've bought this year. ( )
  Westwest | Oct 31, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Recumbent readers beware. Those who like to do their poring lying down will scarcely rush to take up this book. It is monumental. Once hefted, however, and well balanced on lap, knee or chest, ''Citizens'' will prove hard to put down. Provocative and stylish, Simon Schama's account of the first few years of the great Revolution in France, and of the decades that led up to it, is thoughtful, informed and profoundly revisionist. Mr. Schama, who teaches history at Harvard University, has committed other large and readable tomes. But nowhere more than here does he challenge enduring prejudices with prejudices of his own. His arguments, though, are embedded in narrative. Above all, he tells a story, and he tells it well.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Eugen Weber (Jul 19, 1989)
 

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German translation has title "Der zaudernde Citoyen : Rückschritt und Fortschritt in der Französischen Revolution"; Hungarian translation has title "Polgártársak : A francia forradalom krónikája"
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This award-winning, worldwide bestseller is an authoritative social, cultural and narrative history of the French Revolution.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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