From one of the truly preeminent historians of our time, this is a landmark book chronicling the French Revolution. Simon Schama deftly refutes the contemporary notion that the French Revolution represented an uprising of the oppressed poor against a decadent aristocracy and corrupt court. He argues instead that the revolution was born of a rift among the elite over the speed of progress toward modernity and science, social and economic change. Schama’s approach, weaving in and out of private and public lives in the fashion of a novel, brings us closer than we have ever been to the harrowing and seductive French Revolution.
Simon Schama is a professor of art history and history at Columbia University and is the author of numerous award-winning books; his history Rough Crossings won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. He has written and presented more than thirty documentaries for the BBC, PBS, and the History Channel.
©1989 Simon Schama (P)1990 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Lively descriptions of major events, colorful cameos of leading characters (and obscure ones too), bring them to life here as no other general work has done…Above all, Mr. Schama tells a story, and he tells it well…A delight to read.” (New York Times Book Review)
“An immensely readable work of distinguished scholarship that guillotined many of the romantic myths about the beginning of French democracy.” (Time)
The narrative is spectacular! But as another reviewer noted, the audio file is defective. Mine conked out leaving the last 1/4 of the book inaccessible. Hey Audible, how about fixing it!
This recording was obviously made by tranferring audio from a set of vinyl record disks. Whoever did it must not have cared or paid much attention. The needle skipped hundreds of times. Each skip abridged the reading by about 8 words. So much was missing in parts, I couldn't really understand the material. Why the attrociuous lack of quality control?
The audio sounds like it was ripped from a scratched CD. At first it's only occasional, a minor annoyance. Later, though, it becomes more frequent, to the point where sentences and paragraphs can't be made out.
I've tried it on different devices, and the skips are in the same place, so the problem is on Audible's end.
I tried contacting them but have received no response. They're doing this excellent book, and their customers, a disservice by not re-uploading proper audio
Teach art history at a local college.
Simon Schama is one of the best writers of popular history, but is ill-served by the narrator, who switches back and forth between men' and women's voices, French and German accents and editorializing sarcasm in a distracting pseudo-theatricality. I struggled to finish, and have yet to do so!
Schama's other titles, such as Rembrandt’s Eyes or The Embarrassment of Riches –no less meticulously researched—were a joy to discover, and both were read more than once.
Which is why Davidson's sophomoric reading is like listening to a second or third rate Hamlet, winking at the audience. One is tempted to throw tomatoes.
Gamely, I will persevere because Schama's is a refreshing voice, in the noisy forest of scholarship. Hopefully, the reader might be persuaded to re-record some of his more sarcastic chapters, and we can hear the writer's own words clearly.
Schama emphasizes the great personalities involved in the French Revolution: this is the place to go for full portraits of the vacillating but sometimes courageous Louis XVI; for the puritanical Robespierre; the devilish Marat, with his repulsive skin disease; and calculating opportunists like Talleyrand.
It's also the place to go for stomach-churning descriptions of mob violence. I'm writing this in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Paris; and I hesitate to say this because of the timing, but Paris is no stranger to the savage violence of the mob on people perceived as enemies. Once killed by a Paris mob, the victim's body was likely to be torn apart - literally - with parts paraded around the city on the ends of pikes. Heads were being removed as trophies by ordinary people for years before the guillotine made the process systematic.
The king was at Versailles; a mob stormed the palace, killed and beheaded his defenders, and forced him to move to his palace in the city, the Tuilleries, where they could keep an eye on him. Later that palace was stormed by a mob, who killed and beheaded his defenders, and forced him to take refuge elsewhere. Later still, this place of refuge was stormed again, with even worse butchery, and he was tried and condemned to the guillotine.
Schama doesn't focus exclusively on this aspect of the revolution. He gives full play to the political history of the various factions: the Montagnards, the Girondins, the Jacobins; and to the successive waves of political and sometimes physical extermination carried out by one faction against another. The Revolution was self-consciously symbolic and declamatory, and it made for magnificent "scenes" of political debate.
It's a long, fascinating account, whose only fault is that it ends rather abruptly after the death of Robespierre. There's a summing up of what happened to who, but less attention to what - if anything - it all meant. Frederick Davidson gives his usual sterling performance. (Davidson, as I've said many times, is an acquired taste: IF you've acquired the taste, the book is a great pleasure to listen to. He has an unerring instinct for character, given less free rein here than in his readings of fiction, but still in evidence.)
Fix the audio. I am reluctant to return this book as I really want to listen to it. However, the skipping of the audio becomes more and more annoying over time.
Please fix the audio on this book! It is a real disservice to the consumers who purchase this book.
This is a fascinating view into the details of the Revolution. The description of the set-piece events is interesting but really the best aspect is Schama's detailed examination of life in France leading into 1789 and thereafter. His vivid description of tax farming, the King and Queen, developments in industry, hunger--all amazing. I highly recommend it.
Narration was OK. Davidson has an interesting tic of applying a French accent at some times and forgetting it elsewhere. Recording quality was spotty at times.
I recommend listening to the last chapter first for two reasons. First, it IS a good summary that stands on its own. Second, it will fortify some people to undertake the entire colossus. This one of the few such monsters best taken on bodily and in whole. It documents two things of importance. First, the origins of Galic/Germanic enmities as stated by no better first hand observer then Goete himself. Second, the era of the totalitarian military state that lasted two hundred years.
Chow Enly, when asked what he made of the French revolution apparently replied it was to early to tell. Now we know. It ended in 1989.
I thought (or imagined) that I possessed an understanding of the French Revolution. Then (quite tardily) read Citizens.
The effect of this read has immeasurably deepened my understanding and greatly enhanced my mental images of the era.
I've been waiting for this book to come onto Audible. Great book and a great narration. Davidson sounds a bit like Simon Schama with a hint of Kenneth Williams in there. Read fast and easy to follow. A rollicking narrative.
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