cover image The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, a Life

The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, a Life

David Lawday, Grove, $27.50 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1933-9

Attempting to reconcile what he sees as Danton’s essentially humane nature with the Terror he helped to unleash, former Economist correspondent Lawday (Napoleon’s Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand) gives us not only a fine biography but a moving description of revolutionary tragedy as well. The man Lawday calls the "gentle giant of terror" was a giant physically and in his impact on European history. Danton (1759–1794) took charge of the Revolution when it faced failure and saw violence as the only way to save it and avert greater violence if Britain invaded and royalists sought vengeance. Basically, a family man longing for his country village, he was responsible for the overthrow of the monarchy and for the use of extreme violence against the Revolution’s enemies, yet he quietly sought moderation when possible. Riding the revolutionary wave, Danton attempted to stay afloat as his archenemy, Robespierre, manipulated events. Danton’s loss to Robespierre’s bloodthirstiness was inevitable and he was condemned to the guillotine. An exciting history, gracefully written and well researched, but slightly weakened by occasional attempts, in the absence of documentation, to imagine what Danton’s thoughts and motives might have been. Illus., 1 map. (July)