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The 10 Best Books on the French Revolution


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Book Recommendations on the History of the French Revolution: From Beginner to Advanced

The French Revolution is one of the most important events in French history. It does not in itself represent that the French bourgeoisie has complete control over the rights of the entire country, but it is the beginning of the French bourgeois revolution for decades to come. 

So how did this revolution affect France and later did the historical trend break out? Why do many people say that this revolution turned into a riot in the end? 

The French Revolution was inherited from the American War of Independence, but its influence was much greater than that of the War of Independence, which directly inspired the bourgeois revolutions in various countries in Europe in 1848. 

As the saying goes, "When France sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold." If you know something about the French Revolution, then you are not far from understanding the whole of Europe.
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The French Revolution of 1789 opened a new chapter in world history. The people of Paris stood up for the ideals of freedom, equality, and fraternity, and set an example for the people of the world. Under the influence of the French Revolution, the people of European countries also began to rebel against the rule of European feudal monarchs. 

However, the French Revolution also has an unbearable history, that is, the "Reign of Terror" from 1793 to 1794, and many controversies about the French Revolution are mainly related to a series of events during this period. 

Talking about the French Revolution, let's talk about The 10 Best Books on the French Revolution.

    The 10 Best Books on the French Revolution 



    1. The Ancien Régime and the Revolution 


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    The Ancien Régime and the Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville  

    The book "The Old Regime and the Great Revolution", according to Tocqueville's description in the preface, should have been divided into two parts - the "Old Regime" and the "Great Revolution", but the "Great Revolution" as the second part has not yet been completed. Kerrville died. 

    Therefore, only "The Old Regime and the Revolution" was published as the first part, which focused on answering "Why did the French Revolution break out", while it can be speculated from the first part that if Tocqueville completed the second part, he would focus on Answer "Why is it difficult for a republic of freedom, equality, and fraternity to be established in France after the Great Revolution". 

    The structure of the whole book is divided into three parts, although it is named "The Old System and the Great Revolution", only the first part, which is very small, discusses the Great Revolution relatively directly, and its purpose is also to lead to thinking about the old system. 

    The other two parts mainly discuss the mechanism by which the old system gave birth to the great revolution. The second part, which has the most space, focuses on the old system itself and the various drawbacks it has caused, while the third part discusses the non-institutional reasons derived from the old system. , such as literati politics, non-religious tendencies, etc.
      
      Tocqueville discusses many reasons and various complex mechanisms. This article takes the three major mechanisms of social movement and revolution in sociology—structure, change, and discourse—as the starting point, and takes the pre-revolutionary “crisis of regime legitimacy” as the starting point. 

    "As a connecting point, I reintegrate and sort out Tocqueville's discourse on the complex mechanism of the old system that gave birth to the Great Revolution, and attempt to explain how administrative centralization, expectation-based relative deprivation, and the discourse of enlightenment led to the complete crisis of regime legitimacy in the Bourbon Dynasty. ——

    The successful expansion of administrative centralization over the years not only destroyed the only remaining procedural legitimacy in the old system - the three-level conference but also led the Bourbon dynasty to gradually establish the legitimacy of the regime on the basis of unstable performance legitimacy; 

    The rise of "popular sovereignty" in the discourse of the Enlightenment weakened the traditional ideological legitimacy of "monarchical authority"; and the Bourbon dynasty of Louis XVI dared not and was unwilling to actively establish the legitimacy of the regime on the procedural legitimacy of the constitutional monarchy. basically. 

    The reforms of Louis XVI on the eve of the Great Revolution were unfavorable, causing a serious relative deprivation of expectation among the people, and losing the legitimacy of the only remaining political achievements. Finally, the crisis of the legitimacy of the Bourbon regime broke out completely.


    2. Interpreting the French Revolution 


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    Interpreting the French Revolution by François Furet 

      This is a history you know and don't know. You may have heard the names of those historical figures, but you don't know them. You don't know what kind of history they created.

        After reading this book, I am also thinking about the French Revolution, what gave the French people such passion, and what gave the French people such courage, looking around the world, few countries and nations dare to face up to their own inferiority, and Kill them with pain to avoid future troubles. And the French bravely stood up and said no to bad traditions.

        Through this book, you can get a deeper and real understanding of the French Revolution, you can feel the blood and blood of the Great Revolution again, and you can even revisit the names and stories that have become estranged.

    The French Revolution is one of the most important historical events in modern history, and its influence has not disappeared even now, and there are many historical works to study it. 

    It is roughly divided into two categories: historical event narratives and historical comments, and historical comments are full of positive, objective, and negative types, which make people feel like falling into a sea of smoke. 

    Therefore, we must have our own position when dealing with history. This book is considered a review article, and its position is also in the middle. 

    Although the author has a high status and is also an authority in the study of the French Revolution, I feel that this book is average, and perhaps the author's point of view is not the same as mine. So I don't particularly appreciate it. Of course, "Stones from Other Mountains" are also necessary.


    3. The Oxford History of the French Revolution 


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    The Oxford History of the French Revolution by William Doyle 

    In 1788, France experienced a severe natural disaster, and most farmers lost their crops. Coupled with the belligerence of Louis XV before, the treasury was empty. 

    The monarchical government under Louis XVI was corrupt and incompetent, and inflation was so high in France that people living in the cities paid for bread with more than half of their income. 

    Facing domestic grievances, the king decided to convene a three-level council on May 5, 1789. Louis XVI tried to increase taxes at the conference to limit the publishing industry, but the third estate did not agree to increase the tax, and decided to establish a national assembly. 

    The king's attempt to use the army to shut down the Constituent Assembly, which was renamed the National Assembly, was met with protests and resistance from the citizens of Paris. They occupied most of the city and captured the Bastille, which became the start of the French Revolution.

    The revolution was full of violence, and with the support of angry Parisians, the Revolution executed Louis XVI and his queen. Also with their support, the Great Revolution ushered in the tyranny of Robespierre, and with their support, the brutal dictator was sent to the guillotine. Revolution is different from reform. 

    Reform is to negotiate the interests of all parties. Revolution shows that this kind of negotiation is no longer effective, and people must express their wishes in a more extraordinary way. 

    This outrageous approach is most violent, as those who own most of the wealth refuse to give up their privileges. But is the violence that made the ruling classes renounce their privileges the same kind of violence as all the violence of the French Revolution?

    The right of every human being to survive is the fundamental right of human beings. Therefore, the violence against the invaders is just, because the invaders violated the most fundamental right of survival of others. 

    Likewise, violence against the oppressor is just, because the oppressor makes the oppressed lose the right to live. The ruling class, as human individuals who also exist, also has the right to survive. 

    Therefore, the limit of this kind of violence lies in the use of such violence by the oppressed to force the oppressor to give up their privileges. Any violence beyond the limit is contrary to the original intention of the revolution and tramples on the power of others. 

    But people are not absolutely rational creatures, especially the angry Parisians in the midst of the revolution and the ruling class unwilling to give up their privileges. 

    Then, is a violent revolution beyond the limit of violence still just, and how should we evaluate such a violent revolution in the middle of such a revolution or 200 years later?

    In Camus' "The Righteous," Karyayev drops the first bomb, is captured calmly after the mission and is eventually hanged by the gallows. His lover Dora said he took his life twice to go from murder to gallows. He died under the gallows after assassinating the Archduke, and he gave his life once. 

    The moment the bomb was dropped, he gave another life. The real decision comes at the moment when the bomb is dropped, and Karyayev believes that this murder is just because he is for the revolutionary idea of ​​justice, but murdering other people's lives is unjust. 

    Therefore, at that moment he decided to let others die, and also let himself die. But in the first murder, he saw the Archduke and the two children in the same carriage and ended up not dropping the bomb. He came back and said, if you decide to blow me up with my two children, I will choose to get under the horse's hoof. 

    The murder of unrelated people, in Karyaev's view, has nothing to do with the revolution, so he would rather die himself than let others die. The idea contained in this is that the revolution itself is just, but when the revolution demands to kill people, the revolutionist loses his moral code and is no longer a just person.

    The French Revolution that actually happened was more brutal, and a large number of irrelevant people and dissidents were massacred. In this case, anyone who participated in the Great Revolution could not guarantee that he was a righteous person. But this cannot deny the justice of the revolution, because if there is no revolution, they will lose the right to survive.

    Therefore, when a just revolution happens, every revolutionist involved should understand that they are on a road that leads nowhere, and there is a good chance that they will no longer be a righteous person, so stay awake. 


    4. Revolutionary Ideas 


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    Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre by Jonathan Israel 

    From the 16th to the 18th centuries, capitalism entered the stage of history as a force that changed the world. Until the 18th century, the British Glorious Revolution, the American Revolutionary War, and the French Revolution, as the three major revolutions in the Western world, influenced the development of the world process.

    The British Glorious Revolution is a change from a conservative tradition. It has always been considered to be the least turbulent in social reform. The republican system established by the founding of the United States has become a model for systems around the world.

    The French Revolution is like a summary of the entire historical process of the capitalist revolution. From the history textbooks, the slogans of freedom, equality, and fraternity, the people of Paris stormed the Bastille, and the revolutionary government completely cleaned up the royal power and the privileges of the nobility from the state system. 

    From the French king to the leaders of the revolutionary faction, they died on the guillotine, and a series of upheavals made people astonished, just like the monarchy, the flowing historical stream suddenly soared. It has become a flood, and the hysteria, carrying the fire of anger from all walks of life, rushed to the floodgates of history and opened up a new direction for the historical process.

    The power to mobilize this is definitely not one person, and there must be an extraordinary development of thoughts behind it. Jonathan Israel, the author of "Revolutionary Ideas", shows the ideological context behind the Revolution in detail, with both historical materials and historical knowledge, the combination of grand historical concepts and the fate of characters, history is always in spiral progress, which is also lacking in filth, which is the paradox we must face as "moral animals".


    5. Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr 


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    Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr 

    The author calmly (except for a very small part of the last chapter) tells this heart-warming story. It can be said that Robespierre is the real "incorruptible", possessing a deadly purity. It seems accurate to introduce Robespierre in that passage: a man of nobility, a man of pureness, a man out of vulgar taste. But he is also contradictory. 

    He does not pursue material things, but he is meticulous about his clothes and image; he never accepts bribes, but he is a crony in the government; Blood, he opposes killing, he loves peace, but bloodthirsty, but advocates terror, but implements tyranny. It is such a complex and special person who has become synonymous with passion and terror in the turbulent years.

         For Robespierre, Rousseau was his mentor. Facing the "Utopia" vision depicted by Rousseau, Roche unreservedly became a believer in his "virtuous state" ideal and became a flag-bearer waving the flag of French democracy. For the ideal, he could give everything, and he did give everything. He has never doubted his beliefs. 

    In his eyes, there is no wronged soul under the guillotine. He is as hard-hearted as he is, and he is never soft-hearted towards "enemies". In his heart, revolution is above everything else, but he is not an emotionless person. From the relationship between Camille and him, I still see friendship. Although he "sacrificed" Camille for his ideals, it can also be seen how heartbroken he is.

         Throughout Roche's life, he actually didn't have any specialties beyond ordinary people. If it was in a peaceful era, he would at best be a lawyer in a township, pursuing justice for the ordinary people around him and gaining the respect of those around him. The turbulent revolution pushed him to the forefront of history and made him stand out in that doomed era. He is a giant created by the times. 

    There have always been different opinions on Roche's evaluation. I think the most characteristic of Robespierre is the evaluation of him by two enemies (former friends): Dandong said: the firm will, rather than perseverance; Here's what Rapo said: He really believed what he said.

    If Robespierre's ideal is anything, then it may be Robespierre's own words to Louis XVI: "By virtue, mankind will be brought to happiness, by legislation based on the principle of eternal justice. 

    Institutions move towards virtue, restoring human rights and dignity; rebuilding the immortal covenant that binds humanity to its creator and fellow human beings, and removing the root causes of oppressive systems that bring infinite fear, doubt, cruelty, selfishness, hatred, and greed; Your Majesty, look, this is the glorious mission that is calling you."


    6. The Origins of the French Revolution  


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    Origins of the French Revolution by William Doyle 

    William Doyle's The Origins of the French Revolution has been named "the best introduction to the question of the origins of the French Revolution" by the British Review of Books. The book is divided into three parts: a review of previous research, the collapse of the old system, and the struggle for power.

    The first part makes an overview of the previous great revolution research, let's leave it alone. The author's own research on the origin of the Great Revolution is the last two parts of this book. 

    Through the author's analysis of France since 1786, he tries to explain that the old system itself has unsolvable problems from the financial system, the loopholes in the government's central and local power system, the opponents the government faces, and public opinion. 

    The failure of the leading comprehensive reform program due to the financial problems inherent in the old system and the struggle for power among courtiers and other issues already mentioned above shows that the old system itself cannot save itself. 

    On this point, this book and The Old Regime and the Revolution hold completely different views in many respects: Tocqueville believed that the old regime had well mastered local power through inspectors, etc., while Doyle believed that inspectors were The actual administrative process was heavily constrained by the central and local governments; 

    Tocqueville believed that the powerful security forces under the old system that obeyed the government were very weak in Doyle's eyes compared to the population size of French cities, and only the army was trustworthy. 

    And the government is increasingly losing trust in the military. The most important problem is that the old system is unpopular. Since the 18th century, from the aristocracy to the general public, a public opinion atmosphere that hated "autocracy" has been formed, and the important ministers who hold great power are either influenced by the Enlightenment ideology, or because of the needs of internal struggle, they also pay attention to public opinion. Faced with this public opinion, the government increasingly vacillated and backed away.


    7. The Old Regime and the French Revolution 


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    The Old Regime and the French Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville  

    Tocqueville wrote in The Old Regime and the Revolution that in the middle of the 18th century because there was no political freedom in society at all, the literati not only knew little about politics but turned a blind eye. They do nothing in politics and don't even see what others are doing.

    Then he compares the political traditions of England and France: in England, scholars who study the way of governing the country and those who rule the country are mixed, some people introduce new ideas into practice, others use facts to correct and limit theory; 

    In France, however, the political world seems to have always been divided into two separate and separated regions. In the former area, officials govern the country and manage the people; in the latter area, literati formulate abstract principles.

    Later, he described the behavior of ordinary people: also because of ignorance, the people obeyed the literati and supported them wholeheartedly. If the French, as before, were engaged in politics in the tertiary councils and continued to devote themselves to local administration every day in the provincial councils, it can be concluded that the French would never have been incited by the ideas of the literati, as they were in the middle of the eighteenth century; they would have maintained affairs Certain regulations to prevent pure theory.

    In the end, he concluded that if like the English, the French could not abolish the old system, but gradually change the spirit of the system through practice, they might not be willing to imagine all the new tricks. But every Frenchman is daily hindered by some old law, some old political convention, some remnant of old power, in his property, person, welfare, or self-respect, and he sees no cure at his disposal. medicine for this particular disease. There are only two paths to the final result: either accept it entirely or destroy the state polity entirely.


    8. Liberty or Death 


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    Liberty or Death: The French Revolution by Peter McPhee 

    A detailed understanding of the process of the French Revolution makes us have to realize that the revolution itself means failure - the failure of orderly social change due to the strong opposition of the established order, the failure of moderate reformers due to the unremitting persistence of vested interests —

    In this sense, a radical revolution is the natural consequence of the failure of moderate reforms, and cannot be the absurd outburst of some popular unconscious passion, which in fact does not exist.

    What we see is not the intransigence of the revolutionaries, but the intransigence of the anti-revolutionaries. This uncompromising and unrestricted widening of differences, which ultimately led to devastating consequences—revolutionaries had to form some form of dictatorship or absolutist government to suppress diverse opposition—was the complete failure of incremental reform, and That is, the product of the constant rejection of attempts by all strata and groups of society to coordinate with each other, and revolution is but a prominent link in the process. 

    It was not the Great Revolution that brought violence and bloodshed, but religious intolerance and freedom, the absolute inviolability of the feudal lordship, the king as a sovereign who would never give in, the traditional sanctification of the privileges of the aristocracy, etc. 

    One aspect of this absolutist appeal) calls for absolutism in the opposite direction, so that the post-revolutionary reconciliation idea fails again, and a second revolution ensues.

    Because of this, the revolutionary narrative always appears too radical, and the legitimacy of the revolution is always difficult to stand because it itself is the product of a huge failure and fragmentation, the result of the obstruction and destruction of the original legitimate change itself. 

    Therefore, the revolution is doomed to fail. Simply because the revolution is not a new beginning, not a rebirth after destruction, but the middle of a big failure. The idea of revolution (whatever it is) itself is not the cause of the revolution, nor is it the source of the success or failure of the revolution, but the culprit behind this predetermined failure - as we have seen, the great revolution started because of food, and because of food And finally.

    When enough is paid, the years of failure are over, and the repairs somehow (militarism, New Deal, divided republics, etc.) slowly take effect. The revolution can finally be praised for its new ideas, new rights, and new ways of life that have become an established fact, and at the same time be blamed for the violent, chaotic, and destructive aspects of systemic failure.


    9. Place of Greater Safety 


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    A Place of Greater Safety: A Novel by Hilary Mantel 

    Having lived for thirty years, books have always been a must-read for every purchase, but this time I will finally be defeated by this book.

    On the one hand, the writing of the original work, compared to other historical novels, has a very personal style: a lot of descriptions of psychological activities, and a lot of quick screen switching, which requires readers to experience it by themselves. It may be that the author cares more about "people" than simply stating historical facts. Compared with the choice of "people" under history and time, he cares more about why there is such a choice.

    Such a writing style is correct in itself, but why is there such a translator who catches chickens.

    Why declare a flag against machine flipping? It is because the description of the same scene is different in different languages. Halfway through the first volume, I was already tormented by a large number of ambiguous demonstrative pronouns in the book. Three “he” or “they” in a sentence refer to three different characters. In a book with a lot of characters, I really want to die when I encounter such a hand.

    Maybe it's because my posture level still needs to be improved, and I can't appreciate this kind of high-end reading. I just turned from the popular novel "Fall of Giants" trilogy, and I suddenly came across this book and really wanted to give up.


    10. The French Revolution 


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    The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny by Ian Davidson 

    After reading "The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny", the book very objectively shows the history of the French Revolution from the three-level meeting to the fall of Robespierre. He clearly longed for democracy and freedom, but he took the road of violence and terror. 

    One of the important reasons is that the bourgeois revolutionaries did not have the correct policy to govern France after the overthrow of the monarchy - the random issuance of paper coupons brought the country into serious inflation; and in order to gain the power to rule the country, Yale The Gabinists and the Sans culottes united (however the two were not the same at all), just for a brief period to win power. 

    Robespierre led the revolutionaries all the way: fighting the local tyrants to divide the land, launching a war of aggression to plunder the property of other countries, attacking all opposition parties (Gironde faction, Abel faction), and even passed the notorious "Moon Shepherd decree", Deprivation of the accused's right to defense, deprivation of the immunity of parliamentarians, as long as they oppose the revolution, they will all be shot. 

    In the end, he also went to the guillotine. The subsequent Directorate Government became a stage for power games between the left and the right, with frequent coups and people shouting "I want a king! I want bread!" The republic failed and the monarchy was restored. In the end, the author lists a set of data, among a certain 290 people who died in the Great Revolution, "85 people were guillotined, 41 people suffered violent deaths of one kind or another, some of them committed suicide to avoid being sent to the guillotine. 

    The chance of dying from violence reaches 43%." I remember Hugo in the first volume of "Les Miserables", "The Bishop Visits the Unknown Philosopher", there is a dialogue between Bishop Bian Furu and the revolutionary party, in fact, they all want the people to get rid of slavery and move toward happiness, but revolution cannot save the people, just as religion cannot do anything. The people have suffered again and again. 

    I really don't know where the slogan "freedom leads the people" leads the people? The truth is that many sins are committed in the name of liberty. Therefore, looking back at the history of the revolution is not just about the passionate years. Looking at all this calmly, we will find that we have not learned any lessons, and the mistakes of history are repeated every day. This is actually very sad.
     

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