cover image Liberty or Death: The French Revolution

Liberty or Death: The French Revolution

Peter McPhee. Yale Univ., $35 (488p) ISBN 978-0-300-18993-3

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. (June)