- Paperback: 488 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (4 July 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300228694
- ISBN-13: 978-0300228694
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 4.4 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #7,13,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Liberty or Death – The French Revolution Paperback – 4 Jul 2017
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"Richly detailed . . . finds way to both revivify and dissect the revolutionary passions through not just Paris, but throughout France, it's colonies and eventually the rest of the world."--Ruth Scurr, Financial Times "McPhee . . . skillfully and with consummate clarity recounts one of the most complex events in modern history. . . . [This] extraordinary work is destined to be the standard account of the French Revolution for years to come."--Publishers Weekly (starred review) "Articulate and perceptive. . . . Numerous histories of the French Revolution exist; while many are good, none is so current on the literature and lucidly presented as this. Scholars and history lovers will rejoice."--David Keymer, Library Journal (starred review) "Any card-carrying historian must record with admiration Peter McPhee's remarkable mastery of the literature, the debates, and the generations of interpretation about the French Revolution. . . . McPhee's splendid book -- historiographically astute, sensitive to moral as well as political and social positions, beautifully written -- provides a guide through the complexities of the Revolution and reflects on its legacy."--Robert Aldrich, Australian Book Review "Deeply satisfying and masterfully written . . . [a] fine and illuminating book."--David Walton, Dallas Morning News "[E]xtraordinarily well-written. . . . [T]here is no doubt that Liberty or Death is an important book that represents a lifetime of archival research on the lives and experiences of ordinary people throughout the revolutionary decade."--Jeremy Hayhoe, H-France Review "[A] clear and eminently readable account. . . . Both the text and the bibliography, which is unusually rich, will be of great service to all historians of the French Revolution."--Patrice Higonnet, Journal of Interdisciplinary History "This engaging, accessible, and well-researched history of the French Revolution--complete with a chronology of events, a revolutionary calendar, and well-chosen illustrations--will appeal to the scholar, student, and general reader alike."--Cindy Ermus, Canadian Journal of History "It is a credit to Peter McPhee's fair-mindedness that there is material for both interpretations in this fine and thought provoking book."--DMG Sutherland, EuropeNow "Liberty or Death recounts the epic story of a people struggling to give birth to the modern concepts of popular sovereignty, human rights, religious toleration, equality before the law, the abolition of slavery, and the beginnings of gender equality. Rejecting the facile and antiquated view equating the French Revolution with blood and violence, McPhee reveals a nation tragically swept up in waves of fear and suspicion engendered by the revolutionary process itself and by the violence of the groups and foreign powers who sought to destroy all such transformations. It is a masterful synthesis by one of the world's greatest specialists of the French Revolution."--Timothy Tackett, author of When the King Took Flight "Peter McPhee is a superb historian, and in my view this is the finest full history of the French Revolution. McPhee carries memorable description and thoughtful analysis beyond France and Europe, presenting us with an intriguing, essential global dimension, including the Caribbean. It is a significant and absorbing book."--John Merriman, author of Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune
About the Author
Peter McPhee serves as a professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne, and is an internationally esteemed historian of modern France. He lives in Abbotsford, Australia.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The book makes the salient point that while Paris was the focus of the Revolution the French countryside was in flames due to Civil War in the Vendee monarchist area of the nation and the invasion by Austrian troops on the borders.
This is a good introductory and understandable to the layperson account of the momentous event which could be used a good textbook in a course on the French Revolution, European and eighteenth century history or world history. Good period illustrations, maps and extensive footnotes are included.
So I was surprised and disappointed in "Liberty or Death" by Peter McPhee. McPhee has written a national history of the French Revolution rather than focusing on the regular drivers of the action in the political Conventions and the military. McPhee succeeds in telling stories across the entire country so the reader hears voices not usually heard. Le Havre merchant Bonvoison, who keeps a diary of Revolutionary atrocities; Marie-Madeleleine Coutelet, a miller in Paris who is executed for letters that mock the government; Leon Dufour, twelve in 1793, who practices war with other revolutionary boys in the small town of Saint-Sever. This adds a level of depth and a variety of stories not usually heard. McPhee also does a wonderful job synthesizing the narrative motion of Revolution with statistics that provide a complete picture. Usually histories have strengths with one or the other but not both; McPhee uses the numbers so you know exactly how many priests fled the nation, the population levels of the port towns affected by the interruption of trade, how the 1789 drastically affected the revenues of the provinces and their leading men.
However, I would never recommend this book as an introductory book on the French Revolution. To me, Citizens by Schama is far superior in telling the story of the Revolution, of building the structure of the political decisions that drove the French to war with half of Europe and half of it's own country. McPhee, in telling a national (or even global) story, does not spend as much time on these figures and decisions that plunged France into the Revolutionary Wars and the Reign of Terror. The Insurrection Of August 10th, the overthrowing of the monarchy, is covered in a scant four paragraphs. The trial of the King and his execution gets a page and a half. One reason the Revolution captivates so many is the towering personalities: men who spoke like poets, who captivated the crowds, educated men who ended up steering their nation into rapids of political murder not seen in Europe since.......the Second Triumvirate? Except for perhaps Robespierre who gets some attention in Chapters 12 and 13, the other leading lights of the Revolution are thinly drawn shadows of themselves. By focusing on telling stories across all of France, McPhee sacrifices explaining the motivations and minds of the men (and women! Madame Roland is mentioned four times in the entire text!) that were the engine of the Revolution.
This is a useful addition to the shelf of a dedicated reader of the Revolution. The stories McPhee draws together from across France provide more context to how the Revolution was seen to normal Frenchmen across the country. However, I would not recommend this to a new reader. You would not get a full understanding of how the Revolution became the Terror, how the Terror became the Great Terror, how Barere became Anacreon of the Guillotine, how Vergniaud - who is not mentioned in the text - and his speeches captivated the Convention. This book does not do justice to the figures that made the Revolution. I would recommend "Citizens" by Schama for a better general history. I would recommend "Twelve Who Ruled" by Palmer or "The Terror" by Andress for a deeper analysis of the fight for power and control of the nation during the critical years.
Near the end of Chapter 12 McPhee covers the trial of the Indulgents - Danton, Desmoulins, and those associated with them that were in favor of slowing down the Terror. Danton, who (with Robespierre) WAS the Revolution - it was Danton who orchestrated the August 10th Insurrection and overthrow a seven hundred year old monarchy, who was Minister of Justice during the first spasms of extra-judicial killings in September 1792, who established the Revolutionary Tribunal, who Lenin called the greatest master of revolutionary tactics in history. It was Danton who rallied the nation, as the Austrians and Prussians marched west towards Paris, proclaiming before the Convention that "...The tocsin we are about to ring is not an alarm signal; it sounds the charge on the enemies of our country. To conquer them we must dare, dare again, always dare, and France is saved!" It is the greatness of Danton and so many others that McPhee sacrifices in his telling of the Revolution. McPhee writes that in March 1794 Robespierre "...agreed to support the arrest of these giants of the Revolution..." (pg 251). Upon reading this, I imagined I was reading the first history I'd ever read of the Revolution. It made me say out loud: "Then what makes these guys giants?" I would not want any reader to pick up a book on the Revolution and have the same reaction.