The fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 has become the commemorative symbol of the French Revolution. But this violent and random act was unrepresentative of the real work of the early revolution, which was taking place ten miles west of Paris, in Versailles. There, the nobles, clergy and commoners of France had just declared themselves a republic, toppling a rotten system of aristocratic privilege and altering the course of history forever. The Revolution was led not by angry mobs, but by the best and brightest of France's growing bourgeoisie: young, educated, ambitious. Their aim was not to destroy, but to build a better state. In just three months they drew up a Declaration of the Rights of Man, which was to become the archetype of all subsequent Declarations worldwide, and they instituted a system of locally elected administration for France which still survives today. They were determined to create an entirely new system of government, based on rights, equality and the rule of law. In the first three years of the Revolution they went a long way toward doing so. Then came Robespierre, the Terror and unspeakable acts of barbarism.In a clear, dispassionate and fast-moving narrative, Ian Davidson shows how and why the Revolutionaries, in just five years, spiralled from the best of the Enlightenment to tyranny and the Terror. The book reminds us that the Revolution was both an inspiration of the finest principles of a new democracy and an awful warning of what can happen when idealism goes wrong.
A clear and fast-paced account of how and why the French Revolution descended into the Terror
Exemplary ... enough blood on the pages to make sure that we are kept enthralled Prospect Marvellous stuff and an indication of the perennially absorbing nature of the revolution. Davidson's book is a worthy addition to the canon. Spectator Terse, tightly written ... allows certain critical aspects of the Revolution to stand out in a way that doesn't usually happen. -- David Aaronovitch The Times On page after page, there are jolts and surprises, reminders and revelations. ... Lively, engaging ... a compelling single-volume history for the general reader. Recommended. Irish Examiner Written with authority, clarity and journalistic immediacy The Catholic Herald Praise for Voltaire: A Life A compelling read ... an insightful and entertaining picture of the man Guardian Davidson is a fastidious debunker of myths and restorer of balance. He tells his story from beginning to end, one year after the next, with an elegant lucidity -- Sam Leith Spectator There is no shortage of biographies of Voltaire ... but this is one of the best of them. -- Andrew Hussey Financial Times Written in the crisp, incisive prose of a practised journalist... his research is impressive ... [a] refreshing book which isn't afraid, occasionally, to draw its own conclusions against the grain of what has been written before Independent on Sunday Splendidly readable ... This is an entertaining and enlightening account of why Voltaire still matters -- Bee Wilson Sunday Times Voltaire can be a rather daunting figure, but emerges in very human colours in this excellent biography, which makes splendid use of the philosopher's letters Sunday Telegraph