The best books about the French Revolution

Jeremy D. Popkin Author Of A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution
By Jeremy D. Popkin

The Books I Picked & Why

The Old Regime and the French Revolution

By Alexis de Tocqueville

The Old Regime and the French Revolution

Why this book?

Like his classic Democracy in America, 19th-century French author Alexis de Tocqueville’s analysis of the great movement for freedom in his own country raises profound questions about the difficult relationship between liberty and equality. Modern scholarship has challenged some of Tocqueville’s assertions, but his warning that events often turn out very differently from what the actors in them intended is as relevant today as it was when his book was first published in 1856.


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Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution

By R. R. Palmer

Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution

Why this book?

The most troubling aspect of the French Revolution, for those who identify with its ideals of liberty and equality, is the way a movement for freedom turned into a revolutionary dictatorship that foreshadowed modern totalitarian regimes. American historian R. R. Palmer’s clear and readable account explains the extraordinary circumstances that led to the Terror and why this episode should not discredit the principles of democracy.


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Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution

By Lynn Hunt

Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution

Why this book?

A classic example of “the new cultural history,” Lynn Hunt’s short book transformed the way historians look at the French Revolution and has also influenced scholars working on many other subjects. In our age of “culture wars,” Hunt’s demonstration of how slogans, visual images, and even clothing became powerful forces in politics has a relevance that goes beyond the period of the French Revolution.


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The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution

By Dominique Godineau, Katherine Streip

The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution

Why this book?

Half of the people who experienced the French Revolution were women, and the recognition of their role in these events is one of the biggest transformations in historians’ perspectives of the past half-century. Dominque Godineau’s thoroughly documented book depicts the everyday lives of women in the revolutionary era and the activists who paved the way for modern feminist movements.


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The Gods Will Have Blood

By Anatole France

The Gods Will Have Blood

Why this book?

Less well known in the English-speaking world than Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, The Gods Will Have Blood probes the psychology of the revolutionaries and helps us understand the tragic dimension of a movement that cost the lives of so many well-meaning people.


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