73 books directly related to the French Revolution 📚

All 73 French Revolution books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau, J. Cohen (translator),

Book cover of The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Why this book?

The granddaddy of literary autobiography and biography, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions was written in 1769 but published posthumously in 1782. Rousseau, whose pioneering Romantic political philosophy was by then already influential, was setting out to do something equally new when he decided to study human nature, taking as his experimental model the human he knew best – himself. The rollicking result, sometimes self-flagellating, occasionally exhibitionist, deviates from its own model, St Augustine’s fourth-century religious-philosophical Confessions, in being chock-full of what nowadays we call emotional intelligence.


Fashion in the French Revolution

By Aileen Ribeiro,

Book cover of Fashion in the French Revolution

Why this book?

Ribeiro is the author of numerous books on beauty and fashion, but this is the one I always come back to. Here, she explicitly connects social and political trends to changes in dress, beginning in the 1780s to the rise of Napoleon. The analysis is straightforward and compelling, although she also acknowledges the nuance. It’s a terrific introduction to the political importance of fashion during a period when fashion could not have been more politically salient.


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

By R.R. Palmer,

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

Why this book?

There is a reason why this book, published during the darkest days of World War Two, is still in print eighty years later. It is a profound study, deeply informed by Palmer’s own experience of living through a time of war, crisis, and fear. It focuses on the twelve men who served on the Committee of Public Safety and together played a leading role in revolutionary government throughout the critical period of the Year II (1793-94).

This was the first book I ever read on the period of existential crisis known as ‘the Terror’, and it helped me make sense of what was happening and why. If you want to know what it was like to be leading a government during war and revolution. Palmer’s book is the place to start. Forty years since I read it, Palmer’s book still occupies a prime place on my bookshelf.


The Gods Will Have Blood

By Anatole France,

Book cover of The Gods Will Have Blood

Why this book?

I have read no better evocation of how the mechanics of the Terror actually proceeded and intruded on the populace. The story is compelling, the characterisation vivid, the overall effect to make the reader shudder with disbelief that such disgusting activity should have been fenced round with nay, enshrined in, the supposed legitimacy and defence of law, the very safety of a government’s measures to protect the public. Cicero invoked, here: the supreme point of law is the safety of the people. The reference of the title is to the human sacrifices in the Inca culture. At one point, such was the volume of bloodshed from the guillotine in the Place du Trône [present day Place de la Concorde] a veritable river, as the merciless blade of the ax (the sword of justice’) plunged down in it its grooves onto one neck after the other, day after miserable, gory day to the dry-throated beat of the funerary kettle drums, that plans were laid to build a sluice, a sangueduct, to carry it away.

When the King Took Flight

By Timothy Tackett,

Book cover of When the King Took Flight

Why this book?

At the celebrations on 14 July 1790 for the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, Louis XVI took an oath to work with the National Assembly as a constitutional monarch. Less than a year later, on 20 June 1791, the royal family tried to flee the Revolution. The king’s flight convinced masses of French people that he was a perjurer: the monarchy never recovered its mystique.

In contrast, his capture near the border with Luxembourg convinced the crowned heads of Europe that the royal family was in mortal danger. Ten months later France was at war with Marie-Antoinette’s native Austria, and Europe was engulfed in a generation of bloodshed. The great American historian of the Revolution, Timothy Tackett, recounts the engrossing story of the botched flight and its repercussions for a cast of unforgettable characters.    


Pauvre Bitos ou Le Dîner de Têtes

By Jean Anouilh,

Book cover of Pauvre Bitos ou Le Dîner de Têtes

Why this book?

Anouilh shapes his play in parallel reference to two of the most traumatic periods in French history: the immediate aftermath of the 1945 Liberation and the end of the Terror with the death of Robespierre. In post-war France, a group of friends hit on a plan to explore what twisted logic shapes the individual who gets caught up in the violence of oppression. They invite a local man, one Bitos, to attend a masked dinner where each of the guests will take on the role of a prominent figure of the Revolution, Bitos himself, who has greatly profited by collaboration with the occupiers, to take on that of Robespierre, whom Thomas Carlyle referred in his magisterial History of the French Revolution as the ‘sea-green incorruptible’, from the tinted spectacles he wore.

Carlyle’s prose is lush, baroque, strong meat but well worth dipping into. The idea is brilliant as a vehicle to probe motive, the thinking that lay beneath the florid rhetoric and to expose the man whose very first sight of the guillotine to which he had consigned thousands was from the tumbril that carried him there. One day, he inadvertently encountered the public executioner, Sanson, the man who worked the dread machine, and, in the words of the chronicler, his face froze as if he’s just seen a snake.

Anouilh doesn’t peddle judgement, rather he allows admission to carry its own self-condemnation.


Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution 1793-1794

By Olivier Blanc,

Book cover of Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution 1793-1794

Why this book?

Blanc discovered in the National Archives in Paris a remarkable cache of letters kept in an old tin labelled as the property of Fouquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor of the French revolutionary Tribunal. He was a man who in sending off the last batch of victims to be beheaded, even after hearing that Robespierre was dead and with him, the Terror, said ‘justice must run its course’

The letters, written by prisoners on the eve of their own execution, to wife, family, plangent pleas to be remembered – some containing a little keepsake: a shirt stud, maybe – were never delivered, but, on Fouquier’s order, impounded as possible evidence. Post mortem? What was the point? The letters are heart-rending, sad, pathetic, drained of hope, but as poignant a souvenir of the effect of the vicious law which was sending their authors to the scaffold as any you will read. Fouquier, whose own unapologetic letter is here, once declared that ‘the ideal time to elapse between arrest and death is 24 hours’. Summary justice indeed. Appeal? The thought…


The Literary Underground of the Old Regime

By Robert Darnton,

Book cover of The Literary Underground of the Old Regime

Why this book?

It is widely accepted that the French Revolution would not have occurred without the preceding Enlightenment. But what exactly was the Enlightenment? In this now classic study, Robert Darnton broadened the perspective on this question, to examine the writers, publishers, booksellers, peddlers, and smugglers responsible for the circulation of “enlightened” ideas.  Often operating illegally underground or even abroad in “Grub Street,” these producers and distributors of Enlightenment played a key role in subverting the Old Regime centered on monarchy, Church, and aristocracy, which would come crashing down in 1789.


Bonapartists in the Borderlands: French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835

By Rafe Blaufarb,

Book cover of Bonapartists in the Borderlands: French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835

Why this book?

Napoleon’s defeat led to the demobilization of thousands of soldiers and their officers, and a sudden surplus of weapons and ammunition that would be exported to feed other wars across the world, especially in the Americas. Some of these men remained adventurers, unable to settle into civilian life, and serving the cause of independence in revolutions across Central and Latin America. Others tried to establish a French way of life in the New World, among them the colonies of settlers in the American South studied by Rafe Blaufarb in this pioneering study of the Vine and Olive communities in Alabama.


The Terror: Civil War in the French Revolution

By David Andress,

Book cover of The Terror: Civil War in the French Revolution

Why this book?

This is a gripping, wide-ranging, and detailed study of the explosive years of ‘the Terror’. Andress ranges far beyond the claustrophobic assemblies, clubs, and streets of Paris to show the country-wide impact of war, revolution, and terror. Andress has little time for revolutionary idealism, and there are no heroes in this book. His deep knowledge of his subject shines out from every page. The result is a vivid and disturbing account, dense, lively, and well-written. 


A Tale of Two Cities

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of A Tale of Two Cities

Why this book?

The setting of A Tale of Two Citiesthe peacefulness in London and the Reign of Terror in Paris--shapes this story of friendship and love and mistaken identity which leads one man to give his all for the love of his life. Sydney Carton’s story is haunting and inspiring, an undying source of inspiration for me, a tale which I have referenced in my own work. The writer in me finds further inspiration from the writer Charles Dickens who self-published this remarkable story, serializing it in thirty-one weekly parts, from April to November of 1859, as the lead piece in his own new journal, All the Year Round.


Interpreting the French Revolution

By François Furet, Elborg Forster (translator),

Book cover of Interpreting the French Revolution

Why this book?

This is not an easy read, but it is a seminal work by the greatest modern historian of the French Revolution, which made an enormous impression on me when I first read it as a student in the 1980s. It marked a decisive break with what up until then had been the standard view of the Revolution as a class struggle. For Furet, the Revolution’s real importance lay elsewhere, as the first modern experiment with democracy – in his eloquent words, "a beginning and a haunting vision of that beginning."


1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow

By Adam Zamoyski,

Book cover of 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow

Why this book?

When I first read this book I found it unputdownable. It is a riveting account, based on a huge number of original sources and testimonies, of the watershed defeat of Napoleon’s career: his invasion of Russia, capture of Moscow, and the disastrous winter retreat that destroyed his army of half a million men. Its evocation of the accompanying horrors is often harrowing, but underlines one sobering and always relevant fact: the amount of human suffering the folly of one man can bring about.


Scarlet

By Jen Geigle Johnson,

Book cover of Scarlet

Why this book?

A fun twist on one of my favorite historical tales, The Scarlet Pimpernel, this novel portrays the elusive hero as a brilliant, determined woman. The cast of characters is full and well-developed, including a dashing hero worthy of our heroine’s love. This story is beautifully written, has plenty of twists and turns, heart-melting romance, and a delightful happily ever after. 


The Complete Poems of John Keats

By John Keats,

Book cover of The Complete Poems of John Keats

Why this book?

"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" may not be Keats’ most well-known poem but it’s right up there with his best, and Keats’ best might just be the very best when it comes to romantic poetry. This is a beautiful fantasy poem that’s both hot and disturbing. It’s dark fantasy at its best. Its lyrical and sensuous beauty will give you chills and goosebumps. Other fantasy-themed poems in this collection include "Endymion," "Lamia and Hyperion," "Isabella," and "St Agnes’ Eve," all based on myths and legends.


The Oxford History of the French Revolution

By William Doyle,

Book cover of The Oxford History of the French Revolution

Why this book?

Bill Doyle is the leading British interpreter of the French Revolution and this is a subtle account of its causes and course. Very good on the need to look for specific political causes rather than any supposedly inevitable pattern of socio-economic conflict.


Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

By Simon Schama,

Book cover of Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Why this book?

There are so many good books on the Enlightenment era, but my favorite ones have tended to deal with events in France. Among my preferred reads is Simon Schama’s Citizens, which I first breezed through in graduate school when it appeared in 1998. Citizens not only provides stunning, jaw-dropping insight into the events of the revolution, it confers an unforgettable texture to the main characters. (The images I have of Danton and Robespierre still come from the pages of this book, despite having read many other works on the same subject.) In recent years some critics have taken the author to task for being “against” the revolution. This still doesn’t bother me a bit. Regardless of the supposed politics or leaning of the author, this is an extraordinary book.


The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork

By Ben Kafka,

Book cover of The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork

Why this book?

What’s not to like about a book on “the psychic life of paperwork”? The Demon of Writing is a meditation on the rise of a modern “culture of paperwork” from the French Revolution onward. It brings to the foreground things we don’t tend to think about until we are caught up in some sort of bureaucratic morass: memos, forms, reports, and files. And it probes the ideologies buried under all that official paper. Linking the rise of paperwork to the rise of political representation, Kafka is interested in the way record-keeping promises uniformity or predictability but just as often produces an error, friction, and resistance. This is a witty and illuminating account of the rule of documents, packed with stories drawn from the bureaucratic archive.


A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution

By Jeremy D. Popkin,

Book cover of A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution

Why this book?

There are a thousand books on the French Revolution, but most of them focus on the foibles of the aristocracy, or the wild rage of the crowds, or the heroism of Napoleon. Popkin’s new history does a masterful job of covering all the key events and personalities in France in the years leading up to the Revolution and in its unfolding over almost two decades. He is particularly good at placing the Revolution in the context of world history (showing its relation to events in the New World, from the American Revolution to the Revolution in Haiti), and in keeping a focus on the role of the French Revolution in the history of liberty. Indeed, through the eyes of the revolutionaries and their followers in this book, you can watch the dawn of liberty arise in the early years of the Revolution, and then fade under the increasingly militarist and imperial rule of Napoleon.   


The Old Regime and the French Revolution

By Alexis de Tocqueville,

Book cover of 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.

Napoleon

By Alan Forrest,

Book cover of Napoleon

Why this book?

This is by far the best single-volume history on Napoleon. Forrest is one of the foremost experts on the French Revolution and its military in the world. He has written a readable and unromanticised account of the French Emperor’s life. Particularly strong on the background, ideology, and wider forces impelling that man forward. A thoroughly enjoyable and captivating read.


The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

By William Doyle,

Book cover of The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

Why this book?

Ever since 1789 people have asked how to explain such a massive upheaval in an apparently stable kingdom. Why did the Revolution follow its particular course after 1789? Why did it result in a civil war and international warfare? When was it “over”? And how “revolutionary” was the Revolution? Was France fundamentally changed as a result of it? What were the international repercussions?

An eminent historian of the eighteenth century here manages to condense decades of research and writing into a pocket-sized paperback. It is a superb, lucid, and up-to-date summary of the origins, course, and outcomes of the Revolution and of the ongoing debates about its meaning and significance, some of which involve Doyle’s own interpretations. 


French Revolution and the People

By David Andress,

Book cover of French Revolution and the People

Why this book?

The elation of the revolutionary months of May-October 1789 was soon replaced by fervent debate about whose revolution this was to be. This was a debate which involved people at every level of society across the new nation. How could the divergent hopes of middle-class politicians and officials, insurgent Parisians, and the divergent mass of the peasantry be reconciled? Others rejected the Revolution altogether. After 1792 the debate became deadly as a European coalition made war on France, often with the collaboration of internal counter-revolutionaries. David Andress has created a vivid and expert narrative of an unfolding struggle over the survival and meaning of the Revolution, with some surprising conclusions.


The Life and Opinions of Maximilien Robespierre

By Norman Hampson,

Book cover of The Life and Opinions of Maximilien Robespierre

Why this book?

This is my own favourite. Realising that he could not make up his mind whether he loved Robespierre or hated him, Hampson staged his own dilemma by presenting Robespierre’s life through an imagined set of conversations between a version of himself and three fictional members of the public. Witty and insightful and superbly researched below the water-line, this brilliantly experimental biography is a neglected masterpiece.


Célestine: Voices from a French Village

By Gillian Tindall,

Book cover of Célestine: Voices from a French Village

Why this book?

A dusty bundle of 150-year-old letters found in a deserted house in rural France forms the premise of this intriguing literary hybrid. Author Gillian Tindall beckons us to follow her on an enthralling, real-life detective story, as she uncovers the life and loves of the letters’ addressee, an obscure provincial innkeeper’s daughter named Célestine Chaumettte. As she pieces Célestine’s story together, Tindall breathes life back into a whole slice of history and a community now vanished. A rich cast of forgotten characters springs from the pages as we see, taste, and smell the many textures of rural society in 19th-century France, along with the seasons and cycles that governed it. This evocative, haunting account of a country girl’s experience and place within this world really is social history at its best.


Ninety-Three

By Victor Hugo,

Book cover of Ninety-Three

Why this book?

Set at the height of the French Revolution, in the midst of the Terror, this novel by the Romantic writer Victor Hugo depicts the contest between revolutionary “Blues” and counter-revolutionary “Whites” in Brittany.  Emphasizing the ideological conviction of both sides, the novel provides a vivid introduction to the civil war engendered by the Revolution of 1789, between radical Jacobins, on the one hand, and traditionalist nobles, priests, and peasants, especially in the Vendée region of western France, on the other. While it is perhaps a bit melodramatic for modern tastes, this lesser-known novel by one of France’s most celebrated authors nonetheless still deserves to be read for the way in which it encapsulates the complexities of human motivation and experience in the midst of a revolution.


Life in Revolutionary France

By Mette Herder (editor), Jennifer Heuer (editor),

Book cover of Life in Revolutionary France

Why this book?

This new collection of essays by an international team of cutting-edge scholars allows readers to see how the French Revolution affected ordinary men and women, in Paris, the French provinces, and the French empire overseas.  Treating a broad range of topics—from female activism to property, justice, medicine, food, material culture, childhood, religion, and war—these essays collectively paint a vivid picture of everyday life during this tumultuous period.  Each essay is accompanied by a primary document from the time, which enables readers to see for themselves the kinds of sources on which historians rely in their work.  Inspired by innovative historiographical approaches to spaces, emotions, and artifacts, Life in Revolutionary France paves the way for new research into the everyday experience of revolution.


The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions

By William M. Reddy,

Book cover of The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions

Why this book?

This book electrified the field of the history of emotions. It showed how feelings were not just private but also—and essentiallypolitical. Reddy here demonstrates the utility of his notion of “emotional regimes”—the idea that power involves imposing certain emotional norms on everyone. His book argues not only that emotions are a tool of power but also that they may be so misused and ferociously applied that they give rise to rebellions and revolutions—each, in turn, with its own sets of emotional norms.


Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College

By Mark C. Carnes,

Book cover of Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College

Why this book?

Carnes wrote this book about ten years ago as a reflection of his experiences in using role-immersion games—simulations—since the 1990s. It recounts the tremendous enthusiasm of students as a result. Perfect attendance, coming long before and staying long after classes. Student reflections on how much deeper their learning experiences were. It inspired me to write my book based on my use of simulations in the classroom. 


Phantom of the Guillotine: The Real Scarlet Pimpernel, Louis Bayard - Lewis Duval 1769-1844

By Elizabeth Sparrow,

Book cover of Phantom of the Guillotine: The Real Scarlet Pimpernel, Louis Bayard - Lewis Duval 1769-1844

Why this book?

“This enthralling biography and detective story convincingly identifies the real-life model for Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel. It delves into the politics and espionage of Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras.” The real Scarlet Pimpernel, Louis Bayard was an amazing person. Baroness Orczy knew him in her childhood as Lewis Duval, a London-based French lawyer. The story of his exploits in Orczy’s novels is just a shadow of all he accomplished, which Sparrow brings to glittering life. His allies and enemies, how he influenced Napoleon and Pitt, as well as other leaders of the time, and accomplished the impossible many times over, comes alive in this story that begins in his childhood. The boy and man for whom “seeking danger was a compulsion”. It’s how real heroes, ever hidden in the shadows, are made.

I’m using this “thundering good read” now while writing my own YA series. Sent back to 1793 Lyon, Xandra and Marcus have to find and save a 19-year-old French boy they know only as Mouron (French for Scarlet Pimpernel) before the enemy can find and kill him. The man young Royalist lieutenant Louis Bayard becomes will change the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars, saving millions of lives, but killing key scientists and leaders, which is destroying the world of 2045. I also used Phantom of the Guillotine for the sequel to my book, which I hope to publish in the next year.


Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

By Mary Wollstonecraft,

Book cover of Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

Why this book?

The eighteenth-century writer Mary Wollstonecraft is one of my literary heroines. This may not seem like the best book to pick as she died before she could finish it, but there’s enough here to make her personality – intelligent, trenchant, independent – shine through. It tells the story of upper-class Maria, imprisoned by her husband in a lunatic asylum; and working-class Jemima, an asylum attendant. Jemima was born out of wedlock and into poverty, and has suffered economic exploitation, sexual violence, hunger, and destitution. Jemima’s story forms only part of the novel, but the bond formed across the class divide between the two women is the catalyst for Maria to start to understand the roots of her own oppression.


The Life of Louis XVI

By John Hardman,

Book cover of The Life of Louis XVI

Why this book?

The great strength of this book is that as well as offering a major reinterpretation of Louis, XVI, it is also a pleasure to read. John Hardman has pioneered the reappraisal of Louis that has been underway over the last twenty years. The unfortunate king has traditionally been portrayed as either reactionary or incompetent (or both). In place of this caricature, Hardman convincingly presents the monarch as a man of high intelligence who was prepared to make many more compromises with the Revolution than historians have allowed. In his view, Louis’ real weakness was not intellectual but psychological: crises of depression that paralysed him at crucial moments after 1789.


Becoming Josephine: A Novel

By Heather Webb,

Book cover of Becoming Josephine: A Novel

Why this book?

I think most history fans know about the ill-fated relationship between Napoleon and Josephine, but I loved that this novel also highlighted Josephine’s early—and mostly forgotten—years spent in Haiti as France’s ideals of equality spurred the bloody Haitian Revolution. Josephine then also has to survive the French Revolution before she catches Napoleon’s eye.


Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution

By Lynn Hunt,

Book cover of 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.

Paris in the Terror

By Stanley Loomis,

Book cover of Paris in the Terror

Why this book?

Loomis bases his account on the life and work of three principals in the Revolution: Jean-Paul Marat, the sanguinary demagogue, self-styled ‘People’s Friend’ and proponent of some of the grimmest excesses of the Terror; Danton, the moderate, whose increasing distaste for those excesses and his clash with Robespierre ultimately took him to the scaffold; Robespierre, the prissy, virginal, orphaned lawyer who had once argued passionately against the death penalty and then oversaw the herding of droves of citizens – mostly not aristocrats but largely what the French call the "menu peuple", humble artisans, shopgirls, social nobodies – to the guillotine. Inflexible as a Commandment, he became increasingly obsessed with ‘virtue’ in the twisted belief that legislation alone can enjoin decent behaviour or "civisme". Danton, the ebullient bon viveur rebuffed this nonsense cheerily: ‘Virtue,’ he said ‘is what I do with my wife every night.’

Loomis writes vividly, his book is replete with anecdote – some of it of rather dubious provenance, admittedly – but he evokes brilliantly the claustrophobic atmosphere of a time of overheated emotions, the propensity for wild hyperbole, inflammatory rhetoric, distorted manipulation of fact, wildly engrossed report, overblown journalism, the paranoia and toxic climate of suspicion, and the sheer horror of living in the French capital through one of the nastiest periods of any nation’s history.


Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814

By Dominic Lieven,

Book cover of Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814

Why this book?

Perhaps the single greatest study to emerge from a formidable list of fine books on the Russian contribution to the defeat of Napoleon. Beautifully written, interlaced with vivid pen portraits of some of the most colourful characters of the age, Lieven writes with sympathy and insight of a country assailed and battered by Napoleon, and gives his readers a sensitive account of how the Tsar and his people rose to the challenge, and also of how they often came close to disaster. He follows their advance across Europe from the depths of their heartland to the Champs Elysées with the perfect blend of scholarship and humanity.


The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution

By Timothy Tackett,

Book cover of The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution

Why this book?

This study of the gradual process whereby the idealistic revolution of 1789 descended into terror is extraordinary for its depth of understanding. It’s a profoundly humane book, one which gives weight to the genuine idealism that drove the revolutionaries, yet does not hold back from showing how, under the pressure of war, fear, and internecine politics, these same revolutionaries adopted terrifying measures in support of their goals. Tackett has an unrivalled knowledge of his source material, and one of the great features of this book is the range of voices that emerge out of the documents: men and women of all social backgrounds, revolutionary activists and observers, supporters of the revolution, and horrified opponents. Together these voices invoke what it was like to live through a revolution, both the good and the bad. 


Passion

By Jude Morgan,

Book cover of Passion

Why this book?

Passion features major artists and poets from a long-past yet oddly familiar period: the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a time in some ways like our 1960s and 70s: free love, revolutionary acts, creative and sexual freedom, and advances in art, science, politics, and literature. The novel stars riveting, romantic, larger-than-life literary figures: Mary Wollstonecraft, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lady Caroline Lamb, and Augusta Byron. Why can’t I time travel and inhabit such bygone eras – for a while, anyhow! But a good historical novel is the next best thing.

If it’s full of intrigue, romance, fantastic settings, and the occasional steamy encounter in which characters shed cool-sounding period clothing, even better...plus, the author’s uncanny ability to convincingly inhabit the minds of these exciting people, in first-person voice, was impressive. Highest accolade: by story’s end I wished I’d written it myself!  


Burning Bright

By Tracy Chevalier,

Book cover of Burning Bright

Why this book?

Tracy Chevalier writes the novels I want to write! I’ve read just about all of them and was particularly excited to discover Burning Bright. Chevalier’s depiction of London in the early 19th century is masterful, and hugely inspiring for me. Burning Bright is a coming-of-age story that centers around two children’s interactions with the great poet William Blake. I met Tracy Chevalier at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford where she made my day by graciously agreeing to accept a copy of my first novel The Towers of Tuscany which was heavily inspired by her novels and even insisting that I sign it! 


The Great Demarcation: The French Revolution and the Invention of Modern Property

By Rafe Blaufarb,

Book cover of The Great Demarcation: The French Revolution and the Invention of Modern Property

Why this book?

The French revolutionaries not only transformed property, they disentangled it from public power, creating a distinction between a private realm and a public one and between state and society. Blaufarb shows that at stake was much more and much more complex than historians have thought. He argues that without this multiple demarcation, free elections would have been impossible and universal human rights could not have been defined.    


The Thalidomide Catastrophe

By Martin Johnson, Raymond G. Stokes, Tobias Arndt

Book cover of The Thalidomide Catastrophe

Why this book?

For many, Thalidomide is like King Arthur – a story lost in the mists of time. Except, like the Knights Templar or the Holy Grail, it still lives. People are still trying to find out who made it, still trying to find out how it causes the birth defects and other problems it causes, and still trying to claim it cures cancers and Covid – which it might.  

In a scenario that takes the hitman’s ‘nothing personal, it’s just business’ dilemma to unimaginable reaches, through the 1960s and 1970s senior Nazis plotted with Israeli scientists to defend this drug. Like Chou-en-Lai’s 1970 comment that it’s too soon to know what the French Revolution really meant, it’s too soon to know how the thalidomide story ends, but it’s worth bingeing on this book, nonetheless.


Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour Du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era

By Caroline Moorehead,

Book cover of Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour Du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era

Why this book?

Having read numerous books about the French Revolution, amongst my favourites is this fascinating biography of Lucie Dillon – who became Lucie du la Tour du Pin – by Caroline Morehead. I unhesitatingly recommend it, certain that, from Morehead’s striking presentation, most readers will experience a keen sense of what it was like to live during the twilight of the Ancien Régime, and thence on, into and through the nightmare that followed. As an Irish-French aristocrat, whose father commanded the regiment of the Irish Brigade of France that bore the family’s name, whilst her mother was a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette, Lucie was in a singular position to observe and chronicle the tragic upheaval. 

Relying in part on Lucie’s own published memoir, as well as numerous primary sources, including family papers, which her meticulous research uncovered, Morehead tells a powerful story of loss and survival. 


Vampires of the Scarlet Order

By David Lee Summers,

Book cover of Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Why this book?

David Lee Summers’s wonderfully engaging vampire epic is another great story that spans the ages and features a community of vampire characters. Each character gets their own diary-like POV to tell the story, and as we continue throughout the book, we get to see how each character is related. We got the Ottoman Wars here, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, and early America, to name a few, plus we see how the characters tie into these notable historical events. The lore feels fresh here with some twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. I couldn’t put this one down!


Paris: The Biography of a City

By Colin Jones,

Book cover of Paris: The Biography of a City

Why this book?

The subtitle Biography of a City disarmingly conceals the author’s success in telling the story of Paris while connecting it with the history of France as a whole. This history skilfully threads together the construction and growth of Paris as a city with its politics, its everyday life, and the humanity that has populated its streets and neighbourhoods. This is above all a well-paced narrative that captures the evolution of the city and its people – in turns turbulent, cultured, contentious, and refined.


Hope: Adventures of a Diamond

By Marian Fowler,

Book cover of Hope: Adventures of a Diamond

Why this book?

Marian Fowler’s lavish non-fiction account tracks the storied diamond from its origins in India, where it was bought by the great French jewel merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who sold it to Louis XIV. Weighing 110 carats in the rough, the blue was eventually cut into a heart-shaped jewel of 67.13 carats, known to history as the French Blue. In the turbulent early days of the French Revolution, all the crown jewels were moved from the Palace of Versailles to the Garde-Meuble, a treasure house in central Paris. On the night of September 11, 1792, thieves broke in and stole the jewels. Many were recovered, but the French Blue vanished forever. Too famous to be sold as it was, the London jeweler who eventually bought it, cut it down to 44.5 carats—the jewel sold to Henry Philip Hope in 1830. The Hope diamond passed through many hands, leaving behind a trail of ruin, betrayal, and death. No wonder people line up to see it at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where it is the museum’s most popular attraction.


The Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Spanish Civil War

By Gerald Brenan,

Book cover of The Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Spanish Civil War

Why this book?

This book was originally published almost immediately after the Civil War and provides an extraordinarily rich—and yet very readable---account of the many conflicting forces that led up to the war. It is an indispensable introduction to that history.


To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII

By Ambrogio A. Caiani,

Book cover of To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII

Why this book?

Well over 200,000 books have been written about Napoleon, but this recent work actually manages to say something new by focusing on an aspect of his reign that has been oddly neglected – at least in the English-speaking world – his tense and turbulent relations with the Pope, Pius VII, which ended with the Pope’s kidnapping from Rome by French forces in 1809 and imprisonment in France. Though bullied, browbeaten, and even once physically manhandled by Napoleon, the elderly Pontiff steadfastly refused to make the concessions to the secular power that his captor demanded from him. Ambrogio Caiani not only brings vividly to life an extraordinary clash of personalities, but also a key episode in one of the great conflicts that has shaped the modern world: the rivalry between church and state.


Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

By Philip Dwyer,

Book cover of Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

Why this book?

Napoleon Bonaparte brought a decade of revolutionary upheaval to an end when he seized power with the army in November 1799, but he had been made a general by the Revolution and was one of its most celebrated soldiers. The Revolution opened up opportunities for this Corsican “outsider” which would have been impossible before the Revolution: he grabbed them. Dwyer’s prize-winning account of Napoleon’s checkered rise to power at the age of thirty is also a gripping narrative of the unpredictability and drama of the revolutionary decade. It reveals the making of a man whose brilliance, military genius, and vision was qualified by his cynicism, cruelty, and vanity. 


Terror: The French Revolution and Its Demons

By Michel Biard, Marisa Linton,

Book cover of Terror: The French Revolution and Its Demons

Why this book?

Few studies of the French Revolution by French historians have been made available in English. This is a loss for non-French readers, for it is France’s own revolution after all. No one knows the subject in such formidable depth as do their best historians, and Michel Biard is indubitably one of the very best of his generation. While I myself collaborated in the writing of this book, my principal reason for recommending it here is that it makes Michel Biard’s work more widely available. This up-to-date book appeared in French in 2020, under the title, Terreur! La Révolution française face à ses démons. This study confronts the enigma of ‘the Terror’ head-on, comparing myth and reality. Be prepared for it to challenge many of the assumptions about the French revolutionary terror familiar from school, film, and literature. 


Marriage and Revolution: Monsieur and Madame Roland

By Siân Reynolds,

Book cover of Marriage and Revolution: Monsieur and Madame Roland

Why this book?

Jean-Marie Roland and Marie-Jeanne Phlipon (later Madame “Manon” Roland) were the Revolution’s power couple, their lives both entwined and contrasting with Robespierre’s. Their fascinating and tragic story, expertly researched and retold by Siân Reynolds, has much to tell us about the power and passions of the Revolution and the personal relationships at its heart. We also learn much about provincial life, parenthood, and a companionate marriage. The Rolands were initially political allies of Robespierre, and “Manon” sought to cultivate personal friendship with him, but their bitter falling-out would be fatal for them in November 1793 – and ultimately for Maximilien in July 1794.


Madame Bovary: Provincial Lives

By Gustave Flaubert, Geoffrey Wall (translator),

Book cover of Madame Bovary: Provincial Lives

Why this book?

How very terrible is the overmastering desire that torments Madame Bovary! How large is our sympathy and, at the same time, our disgust for this woman of the provinces who, longing for the gay life of a Parisian, as it was in the first half of the nineteenth century, betrayed everyone she knew, including her doltish, if devoted husband, Charles, a country doctor. Fifty-five years have passed since my first acquaintance with Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 masterwork of psychological and sociological realism, a work that does not pass judgment on human folly but only presents it, although the absurdities of society and the pretentiousness of certain egotists are skewered by the author’s satiric ferocity.

In 1967, I was unprepared by life to receive Flaubert’s insights, rendered in the subtlest of prose, in, arguably, the first example of literacy realism. Do you hunger to read gorgeous language and enjoy a reader’s sensual pleasure? Do you wish, at whatever age you are now, to begin to understand the human heart? (It can never be fully comprehended, only felt.) Read Madame Bovary in the Lydia Davis translation, and prepare to be astonished.


The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre

By David P. Jordan,

Book cover of The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre

Why this book?

Jordan’s is probably the most elegantly written of the five studies and stands out for providing a particularly generous allocation of space to Robespierre’s voice, telling the story of his life as much as possible through his own words. At the same time, Jordan’s intellectual biography is quietly attentive to providing a sense of the complex political environment in which any French revolutionary statesman had to act.


The Meiji Restoration

By W.G. Beasley,

Book cover of The Meiji Restoration

Why this book?

This book is a deep dive into what makes Japan special. William G. Beasley (1919-2006), a long-time professor at the University of London, was one of his generation’s finest Japanologists. This book highlights the enormous achievements of the Meiji generation, who alone among non-Western leaders, positioned their country to win the game of economic catch-up.


The Three Musketeers

By Alexandre Dumas,

Book cover of The Three Musketeers

Why this book?

An odd choice of book, maybe, when talking of the French Revolution, but Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers is an excellent portrait of the France that was desperately in need of social reform. It’s a cracking story, too, and gives a fine insight into how the influence of the royal court wormed its way into all aspects of ordinary life, as well as giving a plangent sense of how all-invasive was the power of the monarch’s secret police, managed by his arch minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Dumas makes it very clear how open to manipulation and manoeuvre the ordinary people of France were and how remote the aristocracy was from common life, the king at the centre of a glittering court, spending vast sums of money on frippery, money drawn from the inequities of taxation. I recommend the book as a perfect curtain-raiser to the essential need for a revolution in 1789, and the demolition of monarchic despotism in a ramshackle kingdom of such imbalance in wealth and provision.

Robespierre

By J.M. Thompson,

Book cover of Robespierre

Why this book?

Thompson published his life of Robespierre in 1935, yet despite its age, it belies its age and is well worth a look. It is a heavyweight two-volumed biography, that is profoundly researched yet gracefully written. Extraordinarily comprehensive, it spans from shrewd analyses of Robespierre’s ideas and actions down to some of the most trivial (and fascinating) minutiae of his life. Thompson was ordained as a priest, subsequently renouncing his faith, and his study is particularly interesting on Robespierre’s contentious religious ideas.

His conclusion that Robespierre was ‘the embodiment of the revolutionary spirit of the French people' is, however, more than a little worrying. Maybe Robespierre is one of those enigmatic characters who is always with us!


The Ebony Tower

By John Fowles,

Book cover of The Ebony Tower

Why this book?

Another story that's impossible to forget – actually this is a novella in a collection of stories with this name. Again, about a lost house in a forest in France, an artist, a young man in love, and the two young women who bewitch him in turns. John Fowles is an English writer from the 1960s, whose work I loved when young and still do. He was much influenced by Alain-Fournier.


How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island

By Egill Bjarnason,

Book cover of How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island

Why this book?

To understand a country, you need to understand its history. This book is the most accessible account of Iceland’s history and is also very funny. I wish it had been written ten years ago when I started out on my Iceland odyssey. Egill covers the whole of Iceland’s history from Ingólfur throwing his home pillars into the sea in 874 to decide where he should land, to the great women’s strike of 1975 when 90 percent of Icelandic women stopped doing what they were expected to do and the country came to a stop. Also includes my favourite bit of Icelandic history. On 9 May 1940 Hitler invaded Belgium and Holland and that same day Britain invaded Iceland, an action so mildly embarrassing that we never really talk about it. Egill does, though. 


The Glass Blowers

By Daphne du Maurier,

Book cover of The Glass Blowers

Why this book?

When most English readers think of a novel about the French Revolution, they come up with A Tale of Two Cities. In contrast, Daphne du Maurier’s The Glass Blowers is almost forgotten. This is unfair, because it is both a marvellous read and a painstakingly researched and remarkably balanced evocation of France’s upheavals from 1789 right through to the 1840s. It is a fictionalized history of Daphne du Maurier’s own ancestors, the glass-blowers of the title, and the divisions and tragedies the Revolution brought to them. A remarkable and moving book.


The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century

By Helena Rosenblatt,

Book cover of The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century

Why this book?

The concept of human rights will seem to many at first sight a powerful, positive, and relatively uncontroversial idea. However, the concept is both historically and philosophically bound up with the political theory of liberalism which is very controversial. Many people praise or condemn liberalism without a clear idea of what it is, how it developed historically, or its diverse forms. Helena Rosenblatt’s valuable history tells the story of liberalism from ancient times to the present, showing us the various forms it can take and has taken.

Contrary to widely held beliefs liberalism has been concerned not only with individual rights but with individual duties and the common good. Thus liberalism is not simply opposed to conservatism or socialism but has complex relationships with these rival philosophies. All contemporary debates about liberalism are likely to remain confused if they fail to take account of Rosenblatt’s history.


Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View

By Richard Tarnas,

Book cover of Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View

Why this book?

In Cosmos and Psyche, a massive tome based on thirty years of astrological research, psychologist and cultural historian Richard Tarnas has written a sensational synthesis of astrological, psycho-spiritual, and humanistic studies. Sun signs and other horoscopic explanations are not included. This masterpiece begins and ends with the psyche, the human condition, and, most especially, the modern mind, and how it is screaming to be reunited with the soul of the universe. 

Tarnas writes that modern science has de-anthropomorphized cognition and thus the modern world is disenchanted and ultimately disconnected. In the disenchanted cosmos, nothing is sacred, but if one is involved in the “participation mystique” the universe is truly enchanted, hence everything is sacred. Highly recommended for advanced students and practitioners.


Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation

By Alexei Yurchak,

Book cover of Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation

Why this book?

Alexei Yurchak was part of the last Soviet generation—the last citizens born in the USSR who also lived through its collapse as adults. As the title suggests, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More is a profound and poetic work about truth and what we come to accept as real. Yurchak wants to explain the paradox that, while Soviet people knew by the 1970s that their government was telling them almost nothing but untruths, they were still shocked to their core by their country’s demise. What I loved most about the book was Yurchak’s descriptions of ordinary life among his generation (their intriguing taste for the operatic qualities of metal, the elaborate public pranks they staged, the way they treated life like performance art). With pathos and humor in equal measure, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More paints a brilliant portrait of a world that millions of people called home, but which, one day, all of a sudden, simply and inexplicably vanished.

The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History

By Alexander Mikaberidze,

Book cover of The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History

Why this book?

Although the Napoleonic Wars are most commonly discussed from a French perspective, with their roots in ideology and the Wars of the French Revolution, they are increasingly being understood as the climax of conflicts over power and colonial possessions that had raged between the major European powers across the long eighteenth century. In this hugely ambitious and highly readable book, Alex Mikaberidze considers the Napoleonic Wars as part of a wider global conflict in which France and Britain struggled for dominance, a conflict that extended to the Americas, Egypt, Iran, the Indian Ocean, even to China and Japan, and assesses their role in defining the post-war world.


Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb

By François-René de Chateaubriand, Robert Baldick (translator),

Book cover of Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb

Why this book?

In his memoirs Chateaubriand combined private life and public events, the autobiography of a Romantic with the history of the French revolution. A royalist writer, ambassador, and minister, he believed that ‘legitimate, constitutional monarchy’ was the ‘gentlest and surest path to complete freedom’. His memoirs give brilliant descriptions of the Bourbons, of whom he often despaired, including the ‘infernal vision’ of Talleyrand and Fouché entering Louis XVIII’s study, ‘vice leaning on the arm of crime’; and the bedsheets which royalist ladies converted into white Bourbon flags, to salute the entry of the allies into Paris in 1814.  For him the Hundred Days was the  ‘irredeemable crime and capital error’ of Napoleon; marriage, especially Chateaubriand’s own, was ‘the high road to all misfortunes’. Disabused of everyone, he asks: ‘is life anything but a lie?’


The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution

By Dominique Godineau, Katherine Streip (translator),

Book cover of 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.

Napoleon: The End of Glory

By Munro Price,

Book cover of Napoleon: The End of Glory

Why this book?

The accomplished historian of France across the years of Revolution, Empire and Restoration, Munro Price brings all his arsenal of erudition, archival acumen, and intellectual insight to bear on the last crisis of the empire. His attention to detail, his sensitivity to character and motivation make for one of the most penetrating, illuminating accounts of the implosion of support for Napoleon among the French elites ever written. No non-French scholar had picked through the complex politics of late Napoleonic France with as much skill or precision. Price delivers all this in elegant prose, the sign of a subtle historian.


Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution

By Ruth Scurr,

Book cover of Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution

Why this book?

Intriguingly, Ruth Scurr’s approach is to give Robespierre ‘the benefit of any rational doubt’ in all the major decisions facing him as a politician. Almost like Robespierre’s best friend, she tries ‘to see things from his point of view’ when seeking to explain his acts. The result is a study that subtly draws the reader in, yet is far from a whitewash. Indeed the more problematic aspects of Robespierre’s character and policies including his drift towards violence, repression, and terror stand out all the more starkly as a result of this fundamentally sympathetic and thoughtful approach.


France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, Society and Politics

By James F. McMillan,

Book cover of France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, Society and Politics

Why this book?

Every biographer needs a reliable social history, an authority that distils the essential, orders the chronology, and acts as a framework on which to pin all those facts. In his assured style, James F. McMillan artfully weaves the myriad strands of history into a seamless and engaging narrative. From prostitutes to housewives and from workers to salonières, the author spans the whole social spectrum to pinpoint not just what French women did, but why, and crucially, how their actions were received. The scrupulous research, swift pace, and crisp style make this comprehensive study a bible to anyone interested in the history of French women during the long 19th century.


My Blue Notebooks: The Intimate Journal of Paris's Most Beautiful and Notorious Courtesan

By Liane de Pougy,

Book cover of My Blue Notebooks: The Intimate Journal of Paris's Most Beautiful and Notorious Courtesan

Why this book?

‘Father, except for murder and robbery, I’ve done everything.’ So confessed the notorious courtesan Liane de Pougy, and her diary offers a tantalising peek into the mind of a fast-living, turn-of-the-century ‘It’ girl. After a teen pregnancy, Liane was swiftly married, shot by her husband, then finally fled to Paris where she became a courtesan. Glamorous, forthright, and unashamedly vain, Liane turned herself into a fashion icon.  A social butterfly among high society, Liane’s address book reads like a literary Who’s Who of the roaring 20s (Jean Cocteau, Marcel Proust, the Rothschilds, and the poet Max Jacob all featured). From her spicy affairs – with men and women – to her marriage to Romanian Prince Georges Ghika and ultimate taking of the veil, ‘Princess’ Liane’s candid revelations make an eye-opening and unexpectedly moving read.


Journal of My Life

By Jacques-Louis Ménétra,

Book cover of Journal of My Life

Why this book?

The only first-hand account of life in Paris written by an artisan, matter-of-factly describing the city’s casual violence and bawdiness, the joys, and hardships, loves, and hatreds. Wonderfully translated, it captures a way of looking at the world that we’ve lost.  But also the thoughtfulness of a largely self-educated man who is loyal to family and friends, rejects conventional religious belief, and supports the French Revolution.


Muslims and Citizens: Islam, Politics, and the French Revolution

By Ian Coller,

Book cover of Muslims and Citizens: Islam, Politics, and the French Revolution

Why this book?

Similarly contributing to a broadening of perspective on the French Revolution, Ian Coller’s new book examines the way in which Muslims figured into the history of this world-historical event.  Making creative use of scattered and fragmentary sources on Muslims in eighteenth-century France and its empire, he shows how they were central to discussions of the “universalism” of the rights guaranteed by the revolutionary government. While this government was initially supported by much of the Muslim world, it ultimately undermined Muslim support—and the republic itself—by attempting to impose its vision of universal “liberty” in the invasion of Egypt in 1798, which brought the young general Napoleon Bonaparte to power.


The Fatal Friendship

By Stanley Loomis,

Book cover of The Fatal Friendship

Why this book?

I loved learning about the close ties that existed between Sweden and France in the late 18th century and the French Revolution figured in the plot of my novel. This fabulous non-fiction work explores the politics, intrigues, and plotting of the period through the intimate connection between Marie Antoinette, doomed Queen of France, and her purported lover, Axel von Fersena Swedish nobleman. The revolution was reaching a fevered pitch when King Gustav III of Sweden sent von Fersen to assist the French royal family in their escape from Paris — an epic failure told with passion by Mr. Loomis! 


Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France

By Evelyne Lever,

Book cover of Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France

Why this book?

I am perhaps more familiar with – and fonder of – Marie Antoinette than I am of any other historical personage. Emersed in French history since an early age, I have had a near-lifetime fascination for this complicated woman – who never said, “Let them eat cake!” 

Having researched Antoinette exhaustively (most recently, in connection with her periodic appearances in my own books), since first reading Evelyn Lever’s masterful, beautifully-written work some twenty years ago, I have found myself frequently returning to it. I am drawn to it for its depth and detail, as well as her balanced treatment of an, in many ways, controversial figure. I recommend it as it is a perfect introduction to the life of a captivating woman, as well as presenting a highly satisfying experience for any lover of fine biography. 


Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background, 1760-1830

By Marilyn Butler,

Book cover of Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background, 1760-1830

Why this book?

This is much more interesting than its dull subtitle would suggest. In fewer than 200 pages Butler gives a surprisingly thorough account of the major British writers of the time, not only their works but their lives, their connections with each other, and their opinions about politics as well as literature. She deals with many more writers than Abrams does, though unlike him she does not explore themes at much length. The “background” in the subtitle includes the French Revolution and the industrial revolution, the two greatest events of the modern world, not over yet.