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Publisher's Summary

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.

Critic Reviews

“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)

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Awesome magisterial book, defective audio

What disappointed you about Citizens?

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!

22 of 22 people found this review helpful

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Audio Skips!!

Any additional comments?

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

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Fairfax, VA, United States
  • 02-01-16

This is a great book. However the audio skips!

What would have made Citizens better?

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.

Any additional comments?

Please fix the audio on this book! It is a real disservice to the consumers who purchase this book.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Recording flaws

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?

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Great book, awful audiobook

What disappointed you about Citizens?

The audio quality, for what is a great book, is embarrassing. Between audio that skips throughout, a low quality recording, and audio artifacting, it's nearly unlistenable.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator does a fine job himself. It's the circumstances around the audio that is the problem. Periodically the recording just skips forward or backwards at a whim. The recording ranges from quiet to very loud at a moments notice, especially when the narrator hits a plossive. And any time a soft 's' is emphasized it's ear splitting.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Vivid and Mesmerizing

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.
Thank you!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Savage

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.)

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Harriet
  • Boca Raton, FL, United States
  • 03-08-16

The French Revolution:Another View

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.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Knut
  • Tjodalyng, Norway
  • 11-02-16

Great introduction, horrible narration

Would you listen to Citizens again? Why?

The United States in the 1980s is probably sufficiently distant from France in the late 1700s to provide a balanced look at the important events of that time and place. This book provides a great overview and lots of context, and Schama never looks away from atrocities committed by either side. Citizens is also obviously a product of the late 1980s in its scepticism towards economic regulations.

What did you like best about this story?

The best part of Citizens is the wealth of context it provides in explaining what made the revolution happen and how French society was affected.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Frederick Davidson?

While Frederick Davidson's tendency to come across as smug and sarcastic is certainly a flaw, his complete inability to pronounce French names and terms is almost enough to be a dealbreaker. His awful pronunciation isn't even consistent. Marat's murderer's name was Charlotte Corday, but Davidson pronounces it Cordaille just as often as Corday. Now, her name is a familiar one, but the problem becomes real when the listener can't tell if Davidson is referring to a man alternately as Beaulieu and Boileau, or if they are indeed two different men.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Since reading (listening to) Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety, Danton's execution has never failed to get me.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Brings the revolution to life in an amazing way

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful