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Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989)

by Simon Schama

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,015344,293 (4.04)1 / 138
  1. 10
    The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle (Cecrow)
  2. 00
    Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution by R. R. Palmer (Luchtpint)
  3. 00
    The Life and Times of Robespierre by Luigi Mario Pizzinelli (Luchtpint)
  4. 00
    The Terror: The Shadow of the Guillotine: France 1792-1794 by Graeme Fife (Luchtpint)
  5. 00
    The Jacobin Republic Under Fire: The Federalist Revolt in the French Revolution by Paul R. Hanson (Luchtpint)
  6. 00
    Vrijheid, gelijkheid en de broederschap van Kain en Abel: Getuigenissen en documenten over de Franse Revolutie by E.M. Janssen Perio (Luchtpint)
  7. 00
    Orphans on the Earth: Girondin Fugitives from the Terror, 1793-94 by Bette W. Oliver (Luchtpint)
  8. 00
    Murder in Aubagne: Lynching, Law, and Justice during the French Revolution by D.M.G. Sutherland (Luchtpint)
  9. 00
    The Guillotine and the Terror by Daniel Arasse (Luchtpint)
  10. 00
    Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution 1793-1794 by Olivier Blanc (Luchtpint)
  11. 00
    A New Dictionary of the French Revolution by Richard Ballard (Luchtpint)
  12. 00
    The Sans-Culottes by Albert Soboul (asukamaxwell)
  13. 00
    The Unseen Terror: The French Revolution in the Provinces by Richard Ballard (Luchtpint)
  14. 00
    The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France by David Andress (Luchtpint)
  15. 00
    The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life by David Lawday (Luchtpint)
  16. 00
    Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr (Luchtpint)
  17. 00
    Godfather of the Revolution: The Life of Philippe Egalite, Duc d'Orleans by Tom Ambrose (Luchtpint)
  18. 11
    The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture In the Golden Age by Simon Schama (John_Vaughan)
  19. 00
    Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France by Lucy Moore (PaolaF)
  20. 01
    Ninety-three by Victor Hugo (rebeccanyc)
    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 138 mentions

English (33)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Compulsively readable. Erudite yet clear. Vivid, entertaining, chilling, and accessible. One of the best works of history I've ever read. ( )
  BeauxArts79 | May 16, 2023 |
1000-page book that can be overdone at times, but also can be tremendously eye-opening in its discussion of the culture prior to the killings. Somehow no history class I ever took didn’t basically condense the French Revolution into the taking of the Bastille and the killing of the royals. This book blows that apart and gives a wonderful background to all the various moves amongst all the various players that went on for years. I never knew that the King was considered by the populace for quite a while to be an essential part of the Revolution.

The hysterical hatred for the Queen prior to her killing (pamphlets were voraciously consumed across the nation that portrayed ‘the Austrian Bitch’ being constantly engaged in orgies and sexual depravities of all kinds, sometimes including her own children) mimics the current hysterical hatred for Trump now. Smears ran rampant, with no concern for whether they were true or not.

“This is not to imply however that nothing of consequence changed as a direct result of the first phase of the French Revolution. The liberties enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man for the protection of free speech
publication and assembly had brought forth a political culture in which the liberation of disrespect literally knew no bounds. It was by far the most dramatic creation of the Revolution.” ( )
1 vote br77rino | Dec 10, 2022 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (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)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Schamaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davidson, FrederickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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