A People's History of the French Revolution

Eric Hazan, trans. from the French by David Fernbach. Verso (Random, dist.), $29.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-78168-589-1
It's as difficult to understand and capture the narrative of the French Revolution as it was to live through it, but French publisher and editor Hazan (The Invention of Paris) tries his hand in this messy, often derivative work. Its problems are not entirely his. The cast of characters is vast; chronology is strained by the revolutionaries' adoption of a new calendar; and the changing loyalties and positions of participants make a kindergarten seem an orderly community by comparison. But other things are puzzling. Hazan assumes without explanation that the Revolution stretched over only five years (1789-1794), while it can be said to have continued until Bonaparte's coup in 1799. Nor is it clear what makes this "a people's history" as compared to another kind. Trying to free himself of scholarly heaviness, Hazan nevertheless stops for analytical asides ("excursuses"), which jar the otherwise headlong narrative while not lending added authority to the tale. It's hard to have confidence in his facts when he writes that Thomas Jefferson was "chief author of the federal constitution." Translator Fernbach added his own notes to clarify matters Hazan fails to explain and the book's maps are rather crude. A disappointing work. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/08/2014
Release date: 09/16/2014
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-1-78168-984-4
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