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am 25. Januar 2000
'Citizens' is written in a narrative style that gives life to a fascinating period in human history. The detailed descriptions of contemporary issues in art, literature and politics is a new feature in a description of the French Revolution.
In what is a novel approach to the history of the Revolution, Simon Schama devotes almost half of his work to a description of the Ancien Regime, including a very vivid glimpse into the lives of the Peers of the kingdom. By doing this his desciption of the lives of ordinary Frenchmen and Frenchwomen is not as satisfactory. He does, however, re-create the importance of the ordinary people in the lead-up to the Fall of Bastille, as well as the 'radical' phase of the Revolution.
The events surrounding the Fall of Bastille are well described with the effect that the reader feels part of the amazing and rapid changes of 1788-1790.
The period from the ratification of the Constitution of 1791 to the coup of August 10, 1792, is one of the most interesting and crucial turn of the Revolution. 'Citizens' descibes the rise of the republican movement excellently. The uncertainties of the time are shown vividly.
The feeling of destiny which marked the period of the beginnings of the First Republic, and its lead-up to the terror of the Committee of Public Safety, is seen both through the forceful and patriotic perspective of the revolutionaries, as well as the human and moderate eyes of those opposed to the radical solutions of this phase of the Revolution.
This is, however, where the narrative suffers. Schama's description of the Terror is emotional and filled with implicit and explicit condemnation. Although this is a natural reaction to the excesses of the period, it is a result of the benefit of hidsight. The National Convention was at the time genuinely trying to create a better system of government and the events of 1793-94 should be viewed through the eyes of the contemporaries. This is not to say, as the revolts in the Provinces show, that at the time there were no people opposed to the Terror.
Unfortunately, the inspired narrative ends with the fall of Robespierre. Although undoubtedly the intention of the author in pointing out how the Revolution made a full circle back to to tyranny, this is a sad result for those wanting to see how the Revolution lead on to the rise of Napoleon. Without this link-up the many important changes which originated during the Revolution and outlasted it are not given their due credit. The Revolution, after all, went on for another five years after the end of Terror.
Overall, 'Citizens' is an excellent book for those who wish to see the French Revolution through human eyes and in splendid detail. Anyone wanting a glimpse at the glamour of the Ancien Regime at its last, and Enlightenment philosophy in action, should definitely take the time to read 'Citizens'.
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am 19. März 2000
In 1830, Tocqueville after his american journey wrote:In the future,two countries are doomed to share the world domination,United states and Russia.American people who has to make its ways through an hostile Nature, use freedom as mean for its domination.Russia which has to fight against its own people use bondage. Atfter reading this marvellous book,it appears to me that Schama draw the line between two revolutions. The first one is the freedom revolution the second one is the bondage revolution. The first revolution was dedicated to freedom, like its little american sister.Its goal was to achieve the world domination.To do that Revolution needs Unity.And the only one in France at this moment who symbolized unity and could achieve it was the King.Actually in the economic fied, Louis XVI pretty much agree with the Adam Smith's theories . But in social and religious matters he had more reservations. Mirabeau, La Fayette and others tried to change the king's feelings.The Prise de la Bastille cleared the way for reforms.The representants of the old feudal order, nobility and church,lost their obstructive power. Left the insider opposition. France since the beginning of the feudal order was a very divided country.From the time were monney was scarce and bartering the usual way to do business, french people don't like the ones who make money.The influx of new money and liberty threatened the " situations acquises" actually the old social order. The second revolution capitalized on this fears. The Rousseau zealots were against the Voltaire's followers.They prefer equality versus Liberty.But they thought in a very animals farm Orwell twist that some are more equal than others.To assure their domination, (in the future their russian bolchevic heirs will mimic them,) they used bondage with its collateral violence. But they have the same goal than their predecessors and they need unity. So they use an abstract concept the General Will easier for its prophets to manipulate than a live person, the king. Napoleon with the same goal, the world domination will unify the two revolutions. He will bring freedom to the other europeans nations through bondage. To my knowledge this exellent book is not translated in France. I guess I understand why? French people in their opinion brought the torch of freedom to the world and they don't like that a foreigner, told them that the truth is a little bit more complicated. Today french people are still divided between Unity an division. The same frenchman who had kissed, hugged and loved his fellow country men after the world cup victory in the soccer game,as soon as he is behind the wheel step on it and hate all the others drivers.
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am 8. Februar 2000
It is fashionable in America to presume that the American Revolution marks the fault line between the dynastic regimes of old and modern governments. The backwoods colonists of the New World handily defeated the trained soldiers of the Old and so liberated the world, paving the way for modernity.
Thankfully, this is not so.
Thankfully, because the responsibility for the curse of absolutism and the rise of oppressive, autocratic states so endemic in the 19th and 20th centuries falls squarely on the revered sans-culottes of France.
Reactionary, you say? Perhaps. But as Simon Schama demonstrates ably in this account of the French Revolution, the cry "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" so beloved of the Birkenstock Left first erupted from bloodthirsty mobs calling for their fellow citizens' heads.
The schoolboy believes the French Revolution was an inevitable reaction to its American counterpart, and to the coldheartedness of the French nobility. The Terror which followed, while regrettable, was wholly necessary to purge France of its old oppression. Like so much of history being taught today, this is simplistic tripe.
Schama explains the origins of the Revolution as no other, weaving the strands of the narrative together into a mighty torrent. Far from being unavoidable, the French Revolution was eminently preventable--if only the King took swift, decisive, and brutal action to deal with the revolutionaries before the famous Tennis Court Oath, or if he had reined in his imperial ambitions, or his incompetent ministers who bankrupted the Empire.
Schama punctures other schoolboy myths. The Bastille, long a symbol of monarchial tyranny, actually housed only a couple of bewildered old men, quite surprised at the row made over them. Queen Marie-Antoinette, far from being the viper who told starving peasants to "eat cake" if they could not find bread, went to the guillotine with a nobility the tyrant Robespierre could not match when his turn came. And there are countless other surprises in store within these pages.
Schama has an eye for detail. Were you ever morbid enough to wonder whether the victims of the guillotine were conscious as their heads were raised to the cheering throngs? It's in the book. Interested in the role figures of the American Revolution played in the French? Then you'll follow Thomas Paine, the Marquis de Lafayette, and others through the tumult.
Most importantly, you'll understand exactly how the Pandora's Box opened during the French Revolution drove the rise of fascism and communism, and why contemporaries the world over viewed it as the signal event of their time.
If there's one book you read on this fascinating era, read this one.
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am 25. Juli 1999
This is a brilliant account of a bloody time, when the parties in power toppled like dominoes, when men did not hesitate to execute other men in the names of morality and virtue, and a time when governmental control was lost. Some of the best parts of this book were the section on Beaumarchais, the royal family's doomed flight, and the fall of the Girondins. This is a very detailed book with the first 200 pages as a sort of introduction to what France was culturally and politically in 1789 and how that was a dramatic change from about 1770. This is a new view of the Revolution where the author shows how it was the aristocrats, turned citizen-nobles, who led the Revolution and not the people. The people were the sheep and power was determined by who could control the violence of the people and use it to their own advantages. This book also contains a lot of characters and sometimes that can get confusing, many times I had to refer to the index in order to read back on a particular character. Because of that and a few, but rare, dry spots I give this book 4 stars and I highly recommend it to both historian and non-historian. As to a previous reviewer's comment on why it ends with the death of Robespierre and not the final rise of Napoleon is because after the death of Robespierre the actual Revolution was over. In the years from 1794-1799, it was just waiting for Napoleon to seize power. Once again, buy this book you will not be disappointed.
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am 3. Juni 1998
Like Shelby Foote with his three volume "Civil War - A Narrative," Schama has leapt beyond the realm of history into that of literature. His characterizations of the major figures are fascinating, his judgments insightful, and his prose is a sheer delight. Schama never loses sight of the true contradiction of this and all revolutions, freedom derived from the very real threat of violence. The tragedy of the French revolution, he reminds us, is that each successive regime to take the reins of the state confronted the revolutionary violence which lifted it to power with incrementally harsher measures of "control," culminating in Robespierre's Terror and the military dictatorship of Napolean. Shama also draws with the greatest clarity the straw men which fueled the public's patriotism, whether the fear of foreign influence over the Crown, the succession of famine plots, each more wildly implausible than those preceding, or the paranoid hunts for those who "betrayed" the revolution, never mind if they were the inspirations for it the day before. Shama never flinches from the brutality; neither does he shrink from portraying the humanity of the Revolution's participants. Highly recommended to all readers; do not assume that a lack of interest in revolutionary France will prevent your complete enjoyment.
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am 28. Mai 2000
Schama brings great light to bear on an immensely complicated and fascinating series of events that constituted the Revolution.Written in the form of a good novel it is immensely engaging and the opposite to dry,arid history.The most important thing Schama does is disabuse us of stale,trite opinions as to how and why the Revolution happened. The incredible complexity and cast of characters is simply stunning-it is an amazing story as to what actually happened and even more amazing when you realise that Louis-far from being a despot was himself an enlightened and intelligent man but vacillated at crucial moments-he could have saved his monarchy but instead a new nation was formed almost on an ad hoc basis as the members of the self styled assembly took power for themselves and then didn't know what to do once they got it! This is a great piece of History writing on a fascinating subject-it has certainly prompted me to read more books on this pivotal event.
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am 18. April 1998
For many years the Jacobin-Marxist school of interpretation has held sway in looking at the French Revolution. Historians such as Albert Soboul have dominated thinking about the events of 1787 to 1795. Schama takes careful aim at these historians with a massive work, that looks at the chaotic underpinnings of the French Revolution.
Schama is a great writer and recreates the swirl of detail of the period. Nonethless, historians such as Soboul need to be read as well. Schama can get a little lost in the detail and the great contribution of Soboul has been to look at the underlying social changes that affected French Society during that period.

It would be a grave mistake to believe that Schama was in any sense definitive, but he has shattered the Jacobin-Marxist school's ownership of the French Revolution. Each reader will have to decide which about truth of each interpretation.

Personally, I favour Schama.
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am 5. Dezember 1999
This is the best history book I've read. No writer I know of has been able to be so comprehensive and narratively gripping at once. Simon Schama's expertise in art is most welcome here, as the book is generously filled with illustrations of key paintings of the time. His masterful prose deftly weaves together the entire culture of France in the late 18th century--never losing sight of the political drama, and amazingly (considering the scope of the work) the individuals that made up the revolution that ushered in the modern era. This book is meaty enough to satisfy the specialist, who is bound to find new insight into a well-worn topic, as well as the general reader--who is in for a gripping, absorbing read as satisfying as any novel. This is a work of art, and it gives us an entire world in its treatment of a pivotal moment in history. Simply excellent.
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am 18. September 1999
This is the definite volume for students of the French Revolution. Schama is not afraid to take on some of the earlier historians and lambaste them for their obvious condoning of some of the most horrific violence of this extremely bloody time. Schama lets the facts simply speak for themselves and involves the reader to make up his or her own mind about who the true villains were. The chapters devoted to the incarceration of the Royal Family are quite moving and the downfall of Robespierre and his followers is presented in detail. Readers shouldn't be intimidated by the length of this book. There are very few dull moments in this volatile era and any history student will be thoroughly fascinated.
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am 16. Dezember 1999
Citizens is a complete chronicle of the French Revolution with heavy emphasis on the changing values of 18th century society. Simon Schama points out that Louis XVI's France was a much more progressive and dynamic society than the name "Ancien Regime�Esuggests. Did the Revolution (and subsequent Reign of Terror) actually put a stop to the social and political reforms that were slowly but surely coming to France under the Monarchy? This huge book is knockout history written by an author whose writing style is exciting and compelling!
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