The French Revolution has fascinated, perplexed, and inspired for more than two centuries. It was a seismic event that radically transformed France and launched shock waves across the world. In this provocative new history, Peter McPhee draws on a lifetime’s study of eighteenth-century France and Europe to create an entirely fresh account of the world’s first great modern revolution—its origins, drama, complexity, and significance.
Was the Revolution a major turning point in French—even world—history, or was it instead a protracted period of violent upheaval and warfare that wrecked millions of lives? McPhee evaluates the Revolution within a genuinely global context: Europe, the Atlantic region, and even farther. He acknowledges the key revolutionary events that unfolded in Paris, yet also uncovers the varying experiences of French citizens outside the gates of the city: the provincial men and women whose daily lives were altered—or not—by developments in the capital. Enhanced with evocative stories of those who struggled to cope in unpredictable times, McPhee’s deeply researched book investigates the changing personal, social, and cultural world of the eighteenth century. His startling conclusions redefine and illuminate both the experience and the legacy of France’s transformative age of revolution.
McPhee (Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life), emeritus professor at the University of Melbourne, skillfully and with consummate clarity recounts one of the most complex events in modern history. It is difficult to see another single-volume history of the French Revolution surpassing this one. The work of a top-notch scholar, it avoids all the snares that have for so long encumbered accounts of the subject. McPhee moves majestically along his narrative path with balance, comprehensiveness, and grace. He also brings specific developments brilliantly alive with relevant anecdotes, illustrations, and quotations. Covering (as any such volume must) the revolution's political, institutional, and military events, the book also puts changing ideas, social attitudes, and cultural norms in the foreground. Best of all, McPhee makes clear the extent to which chance determined the course of history from before 1789 until Napoleon Bonaparte effectively ended the French Revolution around 1800. This book fits into none of the schools of history that have for so long vied for supremacy over this vast subject. Its great achievement is to show how people trying to create a new world in France revolutionized all Western history. McPhee's extraordinary work is destined to be the standard account of the French Revolution for years to come.