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The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular…
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The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France And… (edition 2005)

by George Rudé (Author)

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What really motivated the food rioters who sparked off the French Revolution? Who took part in the widespread disturbances that periodically shook eighteenth-century London? How did the Captain Swing movement of agricultural labourers destroying new machinery spread from one village to another in the English countryside? How did the sans-culottes organise in revolutionary Paris? George Rude was the first historian to ask such questions, and in doing so he identified 'the faces in the crowd' in some of the key episodes in modern European history. A classic work of 'history from below', The Crowd in History is remarkable above all for the clarity with which it deals with complex historical events. Whether on the streets of Kiev, Belgrade or Jakarta, crowds continue to make history, and George Rude's work retains all its freshness and relevance for both the general reader and students of history and politics. Book jacket.… (more)
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Title:The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France And England, 1730-1848
Authors:George Rudé (Author)
Info:Serif (2005), Edition: 2nd Edition, Revised, 279 pages
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The Crowd In History by George Rudé

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Some historians write books for the general public, others only for fellow historians. This book clearly falls in the latter category. The author assumes that his readers are so well acquainted with both French and English 18th and early 19th century history that he skips the background context entirely and just goes back and forth between various riots, picking up supposedly interesting details here and there. He records in what order riots spread from one city to another, how the price of bread developed, what was written and said about the riot at the time, and who the leading characters were.

I don't know how much value other specialists find in this bundle of details, but for a non-specialist they are just tedious. The only thing you really learn is that riots could easily erupt from food shortage and structural unemployment. Crowds were more motivated by these immediate concerns than by abstract ideas or general resistance against the prevailing political system. But you more or less have to draw these conclusions on your own because the author shows very little interest in spelling them out. Even in the final chapters, which bear some resemblance to a summary, you really have to look closely to find a few generalizing statements among all the minute details that he lists.

From the perspective of a layman this book would have been much more informative if the author could have focused his study on just four or five different riots and presented their political, economic and social background clearly. Other examples could have been brought in for comparative and generalizing purposes. But instead of taking that course, the author discusses about thirty or forty different riotous events and skips between them so restlessly that it becomes very difficult to understand anything about their historical context. He could still have saved this fragmented presentation if he had possessed a keen eye for comparison, but his talents seem to lie only in collecting details. He leaves it for the reader to study the background context - or just assumes that they are experts like himself.
  thcson | Jun 2, 2019 |
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What really motivated the food rioters who sparked off the French Revolution? Who took part in the widespread disturbances that periodically shook eighteenth-century London? How did the Captain Swing movement of agricultural labourers destroying new machinery spread from one village to another in the English countryside? How did the sans-culottes organise in revolutionary Paris? George Rude was the first historian to ask such questions, and in doing so he identified 'the faces in the crowd' in some of the key episodes in modern European history. A classic work of 'history from below', The Crowd in History is remarkable above all for the clarity with which it deals with complex historical events. Whether on the streets of Kiev, Belgrade or Jakarta, crowds continue to make history, and George Rude's work retains all its freshness and relevance for both the general reader and students of history and politics. Book jacket.

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