CITIZENS: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Schama (History/Harvard), author of Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813 and The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, offers an epic new history of the French Revolution in honor of this year's bicentenary. Utilizing day-to-day accounts of people ordinary and not so ordinary, presenting them in the highly accessible manner of traditional narrative, Schama synthesizes many theories that have populated the historical writings about this era. Thematically, his most important contribution is in revealing French culture and society in the reign of Louis XVI to have been "troubled more by its addiction to change than resistance to it." Similarly, he contends that "much of the anger that fired revolutionary violence arose from the hostility towards modernization, rather than impatience with the speed of its progress." Thus, the "new class" that arose against the monarchy turns out to have been not new at all—but rather doctors, lawyers, noblemen, priests, and other professionals. In the end, Schama appears to have a closer affinity with Tocqueville than has been seen in a century. He chastises the Revolution as having actually been destructive of all the little triumphs of modernization that had been accumulating under the old regime ("Marseille and Lyon only recovered as the Revolution receded. . ."), and all for a cause that produced no great social transformations and which only relieved Frenchmen's extraordinary taxes as their military frontier expanded: "When that frontier suddenly retreated in 1814. . .they were stuck with the bill which, just as in 1789, they refused to pay, sealing the Empire's fate." As for advances of the rural poor, Schama argues that "the Revolution was just an interlude in the inexorable modernisation of property rights that had been well under way before 1789." Indeed, the major legacy of the Revolution, as he sees it, is a negative one: "the invention of a prodigious new kind of warrior state," as well as a ubiquitous violence that forever marked it in blood. In all, a refreshing vision narrated in a passionate style, without sacrifice of detail.

Pub Date: March 31, 1989

ISBN: 0679726101

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1989

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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