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The French Revolution: A Very Short…
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The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (2001)

by William Doyle

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460536,011 (3.64)8
The French Revolution is a time of history made familiar from Dickens, Baroness Orczy, and Tolstoy, as well as the legends of let them eat cake, and tricolours. Beginning in 1789, this period of extreme political and social unrest saw the end of the French monarchy, the death of anextraordinary number of people beneath the guillotine's blade during the Terror, and the rise of Napoleon, as well as far reaching consequences still with us today, such as the enduring ideology of human rights, and decimalization.In this Very Short Introduction, William Doyle introduces the French old regime and considers how and why it collapsed. Retelling the unfolding events of the revolution, he analyses why the revolutionaries quarrelled with the king, the church and the rest of Europe, why this produced Terror, andfinally how it accomplished rule by a general. Doyle also discusses how and why the revolution destroyed the age-old cultural, institutional, and social structures in France and beyond. In this new edition, Doyle includes new sections highlighting the main developments in the field since the firstedition, before exploring the legacy of the revolution in the form of rationality in public affairs and responsible government.ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, andenthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.… (more)
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Excellent introduction to the French Revolution that considers the revolutions political, social, and cultural legacies in the 200 years since the (first) fall of the monarchy. ( )
  jalbacutler | Nov 15, 2018 |
Beginning with a discussion of familiar images of the French Revolution, garnered from Dickens, Baroness Orczy, and Tolstoy, as well as the legends of let them eat cake, and tricolours, Doyle leads the reader to the realization that we are still living with developments and consequences of the French Revolution such as decimalization, and the whole ideology of human rights. Continuing with a brief survey of the old regime and how it collapsed, Doyle continues to ellucidate how the revolution happened: why did the revolutionaries quarrel with the king, the church and the rest of Europe, why this produced Terror, and finally how it accomplished rule by a general. The revolution destroyed the age-old cultural, institutional and social structures in France and beyond. This book looks at how the ancien regime became ancien as well as examining cases in which achievement failed to match ambition. Doyle explores the legacy of the revolution in the form of rationality in public affairs and responsible government, and finishes his examination of the revolution with a discussion of why it has been so controversial. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Jan 8, 2014 |
Doyle provides a very compact and dense summary of the French Revolution. He summarizes the causes which started the revolution, the events which happened during the revolution, and the effects it caused, some of which have reverberated down to the modern day. The short chapters make the book easy to read in a few sittings, and the chapter titles give the reader the direction for the chapter (Why it happened, how it happened, what it ended, what it started). Doyle mentions all the key players, political parties, and the international incidents the revolution impacted.

Also included is a very detailed timeline, a note on the Revolutionary calendar, and a nice selection of suggestions for further reading. As always the Very Short Introductions pack a heavy punch in spite of their small size (this one is just 100 pages). ( )
  kkunker | Mar 26, 2012 |
Doyle explains the background, explaining the way that the financial precariousness of the Bourbon state in the eighteenth century had not only forced it to near-bankruptcy but also helped install a very unpopular governing system of corrupt, lifetime-tenured, administrators. Attempts at internal reform were contentious and led to the summoning of a national parliament; at that moment, the economy began to collapse. He then moves to the mechanics of the revolution - the way that the mob took Paris as the Assembly deliberated, and how the situation progressively moved into regicide, the Terror, and the Revolutionary Wars.

He then discusses what the Revolution ended (a brief summary of the concepts and practices ended by the first great revolution) and what it started (the various movements and ideas, French and international, that sprang from it), before going into a quite interesting discussion of the historiography of the Revolution. (This last part can be summarised as "the main problem is that the French wrote it" - or, at least, stolid French communists...)

As always with the VSIs, an excellent summary; dense, and slow reading for its size, but interesting.
  generalising | Jan 8, 2009 |
This small-format paperback is only 108 pages ("very short") but packs a wallop. The French Revolution is a hugely complex topic, not least because it remains to this day highly controversial, there are 100s of tomb-length books including the flood of books on the 200th anniversary in 1989. Where to start? Here. Doyle gives an overview of the basic events but that is not his main purpose. Rather his chapter titles explain: "Why it happened", "How it happened", "What it ended", "What it started" and "Where it stands." In other words, he uses historiography to put it into historical context. In the end the actual events are curious and interesting, but they were so confusing and full of contingencies that even contemporaries had trouble keeping track of what was happening around them. The bigger questions of Doyle's chapter titles provide a higher-level understanding that rises above the trees and gives an understanding that would take years of reading specialized books to arrive at. Doyle himself is well known for the Oxford history of the French Revolution, respected for its even-handed treatment, representing all sides and taking a neutral point of view. It can be read in an evening and the reader will come away with a clear understanding of why it's important and where the main axis of debate is today.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2008 cc-by-nd ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Apr 26, 2008 |
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'Mr Worthing,' says Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), 'I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me.'
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