Simon Schama – Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Simon Schama – Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

An utterly conventional chronological narrative, focusing on major personalities more than larger cultural and economic forces. Schama writes well and vividly portrays the Revolution’s most famous moments, from the storming of the Bastille to Marat’s assassination. But overall this is a milquetoast history, lacking any major thesis or attempt at interpretation, or much personality of its own.

Some of this is for the better; Schama’s understanding of economics and public policy is clearly limited. Citizens is a good introductory text for learning the major names, dates, and factions of the Revolution. And he tells a good story. But to find out what the French Revolution means and why it deserves careful study, look elsewhere.

Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke, the Marquis de Condorcet, and Benjamin Constant all wrote very good, and very different contemporary contributions. For a modern narrative with a broader historical and philosophical perspective, Will and Ariel Durant’s Rousseau and Revolution is much better.

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