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Publisher's Summary

The 25 years between the onset of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Bourbon Restoration after Napoleon in 1814 is an astonishing period in world history. This era shook the foundations of the old world and marked a permanent shift for politics, religion, and society - not just for France, but for all of Europe. An account of the events alone reads like something out of a thrilling novel:

  • France’s oppressed and hungry masses rise up against their government.
  • In Paris, crowds storm the Bastille looking for bread and weaponry.
  • Rumors, panic, and fear grip the nation as it faces an uncertain future.
  • The National Assembly adopts the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the first bold step toward the invention of democratic politics and a republican state.
  • A young Corsican named Napoleon Bonaparte stuns Europe with his military strategy and political boldness.

Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon is your opportunity to learn the full story of this captivating period. Taught by Dr. Suzanne M. Desan, these 48 exciting lectures give you a broad and comprehensive survey of one of the most important eras in modern history.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2013 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2013 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Mostly French Revolution

Whilst the course is about the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon, it's primary focus is on the French Revolution. That being said, whilst I'm a fan of Napoleon, this is a bit more hostile towards Napoleon than Napoleon podcast by J David Markham and Cameron Reilly, it's more friendly towards the Revolutionaries.

Overall, this is a great overview of the French Revolution.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Feels like you're there

This course combines big historic events and trends during the era of the French Revolution and through Napoleon's reign with the everyday lives of the people who lived during that time. We need more history courses like this.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Such a great balance of the big picture and detail

Any additional comments?

This was a marvelous course. Professor Desan has clearly mastered her subject and so her organization and presentation of the material was nothing short of brilliant. She provides an overview of the forces at work during this historical period and illustrates them with wonderful particulars - songs, quotes, diary entries, letters, etc. She gives you a sense of what it felt like to be alive during each of the stages of the Revolution.

I recommend this with no reservations.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Anthony
  • Old Bridge, NJ, United States
  • 05-08-14

One of the Better Courses

Where does Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Very High.

What did you like best about this story?

Loved it. Through and Through.

What about Professor Suzanne M. Desan’s performance did you like?

She's got a great speaking voice-

Any additional comments?

very good overview of the events during the french revolution, the factions, and the later napoleonic era. engaging and very well done. i recommend it.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Amazing events amazing presentation

Would you listen to Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon again? Why?

Yes, the narrative was well told. You really get an understanding of what was happening, what the atmosphere must have been like. Professor Desan is great to listen to and does not bore even after many hours.

What did you like best about this story?

When France became a republic

Which character – as performed by Professor Suzanne M. Desan – was your favorite?

N/A, this was not a storybook

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. Throughout the course, one becomes immersed and grows attachments to certain characters and certain sides. I wouldn't want that to all be over so quickly.

Any additional comments?

If you are on the fence about getting this. Get it!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Alison
  • United States
  • 08-23-13

Stunning!

If you could sum up Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon in three words, what would they be?

Memorable, entertaining tale

What was one of the most memorable moments of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon?

Suzanne Desan picks her examples & words carefully. This is not presented in a dry manner, but is comprehensive in scope.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Far too long (at 48 lessons) but couldn't wait to listen to next chapters.

Any additional comments?

This is educational but it's pure fun too. Beautifully planned to keep you interested & informed.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Jeremy
  • NEW YORK, NY, United States
  • 04-05-14

Revolution vs. tradition

The French Revolution is this two-headed historical anomaly. On the one hand, a brutal repression (think: off with your head) followed by the most devastating wars until the 20th century. On the other hand, it is the first spread of democratic ideals and human rights in continental Europe. The point is not to judge but to try explain the commonality between those two, very different, interpretations and, perhaps, draw more philosophical lessons on the price paid for liberties we enjoy idea.

The book delivers a set of answers to this question and it is of course, nearly impossible to summarize those answers in a few sentences or without the historical context. Yet, I'd like to try to phrase the most contemporary insight that comes out of it. Human progress, as it seems, appears to be driven between the forces of tradition and order (conservatism) vs. the forces of idealism and change (liberalism). Where tradition is based on concrete practices, inherited from parents and ancestors, idealism posits fresh beliefs and ideas. Where order emphasizes social peace, change values the destruction of whatever came before.

Perhaps this one-time event in history is teaching us the value of moderation, of a middle-way. That even idealistic improvements to human conditions, where applied brutally with no respect for existing institutions and context, are portent of ill consequences. The end does not justify the means. It also tells us that unrestricted reverence for a set of traditions without any consideration of their social consequences is a dangerous route. In summary, it tells us about the value of slowly evolving, adaptative institutions.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Chris
  • Homewood, AL, United States
  • 10-18-13

Excellent Presentation

What about Professor Suzanne M. Desan’s performance did you like?

Professor Desan's enthusiasm really brought this topic to life. She did an excellent job explaining what was going on in ancien regime France that brought about such a profound event and the revolution's impact on France and Europe. In fact, I have a much better understanding of why the French Revolution is still so important to the French, perhaps even more so than our own. Finally, her lectures on Napoleon were balanced and nuanced. Napoleon is treacherous territory for any historian, but she traversed it with skill and aplomb.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Wish I could've given this course 6 stars

Would you consider the audio edition of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon to be better than the print version?

I've never said this before about any other course but I would've given this course 6 stars if possible. Breath-takingly well done from start to finish.

I went back and forth on whether I wanted to purchase this course for a loooong time. I had some other courses on Western Civilization and European history and wasn't sure if their coverage of the French Revolution and Napoleon would be sufficient enough to satisfy my knowledge hunger needs. Plus the length of this course caused me to shy away: 48 lecture courses or longer always scare me just because I find myself with a short attention span and zone out the longer the course.

But something kept drawing me back to this course and the intrigue of these monumental historical events. I finally gave in and I am very disappointed in myself for having waited so long.

This course was just spectacular and stunningly fascinating on so many levels.

The professor does an excellent job of “setting the scene” and “telling the story” of key events. She knows how to paint a picture and describe the atmosphere of certain events in such a way that makes you feel like you were there yourself (i.e the Estates-General meeting).

She kept my interest throughout the course and throughout each lecture because she spent just enough time on each topic, never leaving me with the feeling that something was being dragged out. This is one of those few courses that will leave you wanting more. In fact in one of the latter lectures she explained the different forms of government France took during 1815-1940 and she made the comment "Don't worry I won't be covering all of that time" and I found myself cursing my iPhone: YES, I want nothing more than to hear her continue! I would be the first to buy a new course from her on French history.

She provided excellent narration of historical events surrounding France from 1789-1814 including a great description of the transition between different phases of the revolution including:
o Abolishment of feudalism and granting of rights to the citizens
o Creation of a constitutional monarchy with the creation of the Deputies (legislative branch)
o Creation of a left-leaning Republic with the elimination of the monarchy
o International war with European powers: first with the Austrian empire (from the north via Belgium) and Prussia & parts of Italy (from the east) and then Spain (from the south) and Great Britain (from the west)
o Counter revolution civil war (royalists)
o Intra revolution struggles including those believing in a strong centralized Republic and those in favor of local power
o The Terror in which the revolutionists executed thousands of political enemies under the accusation that they were “conspiracists”
o The Directory (moderate Republic) in which an executive branch of five individuals and a two-house legislative branch were introduced
o The setting up of “sister Republics” in the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Italy
o Napoleon’s coup which overthrew the Directory and established the Consulate (three counsuls with Napoleon as First Consul with strong authoritative power)
o Napoleon crowning himself as Emperor
o After Austria and Prussia surrendered and after a victory over the Russians resulted in a peace treaty in which France and Russia both recognized the other's empire, Napoleon built an empire stretching throughout continental Europe including German lands, parts of Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Poland
o Restoration of the monarchy (Louis XVIII) after the allies (led by Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain) occupied Paris and Napoleon was banished
o Napoleon's escape and return to power as a constitutional emperor forcing Louis XVIII to flee
o Louis XVIII’s restoration of the throne following Napoleon's abdication after his defeat at Waterloo


I usually like to call out at least 1-2 negatives of a course but I really got a headache wracking my brain trying to think of one for this course. The only remote thing I could come up with: On very rare occasions the Professor would try to imitate the voice of one of the characters she was discussing or the big bad wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood tale and it just didn’t work. But this is the definition of nit-picking. She did a stellar job and I learned so much from this course.

If you have any interest whatsoever in the French Revolution, Napoleon, or the major revolutionary wars you will hate yourself for not purchasing this course. Take it from someone who hemmed and hawed for so long before finally deciding to give it a chance. There are few guarantees but I feel safe this one time in guaranteeing your satisfaction.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Perfect amount of information

Professor Desan has written a narrative that details enough information to give the listener the insights needed to make sense of the French Revolution, the Terror, the Hundred Days and finally the carving up of Europe and the Americas that reveal the reasons that eventually lead to the modern era and its wars.
The performance is dry. Imagine your favorite professor at the lectern going on about the love of her life. She has real enthusiasm but lacks the inflections of a professional reader.
If you are a person with a curiosity about history, you should definitely get this course.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • mr
  • 02-08-14

Very good

Really very good, focuses on the political and social side more than Napoleon, though he still does feature heavily. I will certainly be getting more books from The Great Courses.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 03-05-18

Good, but get your facts right.

Any additional comments?

This is a very thoughtful and comprehensive coverage of the period. However, I do wish that she would be much more accurate in her terminology. She seems to move with ease between talking about Great Britain and England as if they were the same thing. They are decidedly not! England was only one country within Great Britain. As a Scot, this really annoys me. I am very happy to be called British and to associate with Great Britain, for the good and for the bad things it was involved in, but I really do not appreciate it when people talk about England when they really mean Great Britain. I am afraid this really grated with me in the end, and spoilt what was, on the whole, a really excellent set of lectures.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • quene
  • 07-12-14

Entertaining and Informative

Would you consider the audio edition of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon to be better than the print version?

Lectures always work best in their original format. However, I feel that the lack of visual images did not bother me at all - the descriptions were vivid and clear.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon?

I was particularly fond of the stories of 'little' individuals, especially those not often mentioned in the context of the topic.

What does Professor Suzanne M. Desan bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Enthusiasm, passion for history, sense of humour.

Any additional comments?

I was left hungry for more. Unfortunately, another Great Courses lecture series I tried just did not compare to this one. I wish Professor Desan would expand on another topic in a similar way.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ross C
  • 04-03-18

Fantastic!

I am so grateful that this level of quality is available to me.

The great courses via audible is just a great thing.

I wish I could have some sort of lending system to share this experience.

This course gives a detailed insight into 1790 to 1815 Western European history.

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  • JCT
  • 11-28-17

Simply brilliant!

For those who want to gain a good overview of the French revolution and Napoleon, this audio book will definitely achieve such a goal. Professor Desan is also an excellent narrator.

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  • Nick
  • 01-21-17

Riveting!

Any additional comments?

This is the best Great Courses series I've ever listened to (and I've got through quite a few). It was absolutely enthralling all the way. Just the right level of detail, and just the right degree of focus on individual stories and anecdotes to illustrate the broader themes. I felt I really got a sense of the extraordinary fervour of the times – the boundless uncertainty, fear and optimism – and it felt almost like an unfolding story, as if the eventual endings were not inevitable.

I disagree with a previous reviewer who complained that Desan was excessively biased in favour of Robespierre. Admittedly, very occasionally she makes statements appearing to justify some violent action (e.g. the execution of the king) and it's not clear whether she's simply explaining the perpetrators' perspective, or whether she is also attempting to present that perspective as one she personally endorses. This doesn't stop her from giving a full sense of the horrors of the revolution's dark side and the grievances felt by many anti-revolutionary French.

By the end of the course I felt a real desire to find out what happened next in France for the remainder of the century in the same level of detail and narrative style, or else dive in further detail into certain strands of the revolution. I don't think there's anything quite like this.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • jock
  • 10-21-15

Very detailed

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

if they wanted to know about the frecnh revolution then yes

What was one of the most memorable moments of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon?

na

What about Professor Suzanne M. Desan’s performance did you like?

clear and no mistakes

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

na

Any additional comments?

na

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  • Mark
  • 01-25-15

Lectures given by Robespierre's mother

Is there anything you would change about this book?

The lecturer can't restrain her enthusiasm for France and all things French. A little more objectivity would be helpful. Liberty and freedom are not the gift of France to the world. Listening to this you might imagine that no other nation had ever thought of them.

What did you like best about this story?

The events themselves are remarkable and all the facts are there. When I got to the end I knew much more about French history than when I started. However she can't resist giving too much of her own opinion

Would you be willing to try another one of Professor Suzanne M. Desan’s performances?

Not if it was about France, she just is not objective enough.

Was Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon worth the listening time?

By and large yes.

Any additional comments?

The author makes too much of an effort to defend the indefensible and justify the unjustifiable. She tries too hard to bend the facts to suit her own ideological viewpoint. The French revolution was controversial then and divides opinion now. You would not know it from listening to this.

3 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • D. Wickes
  • 02-14-17

Solid Political and Military History

Excellent coverage of the trajectory of France from before 1789 up to Waterloo and beyond. Well presented - Professor Desan has something of a shaky start but improves quickly. She captures the passion and Romance of the era, particularly as she builds up to Bonaparte. Trifle US-centric, but that's to be expected.

I enjoyed the exploration of the international ramifications of the revolution, especially in the colonies. All in all a great listen.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • DrBlues
  • 04-24-15

Vive la France!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is a brilliant audiobook. Suzanne is passionate about the subject and it shines through. The book gives a surprising amount of detail about the run-up to the French Revolution before Napoleon's appearance. I liked the reference to literature, politics and fashion that goes beyond the detail I have read before on the topic.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon?

The first Chapter. The author is so passionate about the French Revolution that it is funny at first, until you get used to it. I enjoyed the character description/development of Robespierre and needless to say, the arrival of the big man, himself - Napoleon.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

The assassination of Marat, Napoleon's rise to power, the life of Robespierre.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

If I could have, I would have.

Any additional comments?

The book gave a real insight into the importance of the French Revolution and its influence on the world today.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Stan
  • 05-31-15

Clarity leaves me feeling informed

Professor Desan knows how to give a half hour history class well. She goes from detail to breadth. She identifies themes and explores them. She links them together well. Her style is steady, clear and u dramatic even when dealing with such dramatic subject matter. She lets the primary sources do that work and occasionally introduces humour or a personal touch. Clearly Prof Desan knows much more in greater depth than is presented here. I thoroughly recommend this series for those like me, who know so little when starting the series.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful