cover image Citizens


Simon Schama. Alfred A. Knopf, $40 (948pp) ISBN 978-0-394-55948-3

The Old Regime, far from being moribund on the eve of the French Revolution, bristled with signs of dynamism and energy, writes Schama in this sprawling, provocative, sometimes infuriating chronicle that stands much conventional wisdom on its head. His contention is that the Revolution did not produce a ``patriotic culture of citizenship'' but was preceded by one. The privileged classes, he argues, were open to new blood, and a ``capitalist nobility'' deeply involved in industrial enterprise supported technological innovation. If Schama ( The Embarrassment of Riches ) is correct, the fiscal havoc of Louis XVI's regime did not have revolution as its inevitable outcome, but a cult of violence, endorsed by romanticism, became the engine of historical change in a country gripped by paranoia. Schama's startling revisionist synthesis is enriched by over 200 illustrations bringing popular arts and revolutionary fervor to life. 40,000 first printing; BOMC main selection. (Apr.)