In this second volume of a projected eight-volume history of the French Revolution, Claude Manceron continues to thumb his nose at the canons of sedate historiography. Under his hand the period between 1778 and 1782 dissolves into a series of chronologically counterpointed, piquant, sometimes ribald, vignettes: the tribulations of Lafayette are spiced with a lusty disquisition on one French admiral's solution to sexual continence aboard ship; Mirabeau's turn towards pornography somehow mixes with Benjamin Franklin's touching, yet wonderful, marriage proposal to Mme. Helvetius; the suffocating public delivery of Marie Antoinette's baby makes a nice counterpart to a swooping glance at the little Napoleon. All the sequences are written in the present tense and in a startlingly modern idiom: Mirabeau's father is a ""thoroughgoing phallocrat""; a bishop's advice to the Comte de Rochembeau: ""But if ya gotta go, ya gotta go."" The comparison with Carlyle is irresistible (if blasphemous) and if this Gallic knock-off lacks the Scotsman's depth and power, it does escape being weighed down by his ponderousness. Manceron fairly skips through these years, and by telling everything in the present he has achieved an illusion of intimacy with history's protagonists. The psychology may be second-rate, there may be no theoretical understanding behind the many stories, and sometimes it may all begin to sound a little like Liz Smith's column, but there's no denying that the book works. An odor of reality rises from the hodgepodge, and the reader sniffs the facts instead of merely knowing them. And who, historian or not, could resist so much juicy gossip? This is not great history, and brings us no closer to understanding the French Revolution, but it is great fun.