Simon Schama is University Professor in Art History and History at Columbia University in New York, and one of the best-known scholars in Britain in any field. He is the prize-winning author of numerous books, including Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations), Landscape and Memory, Rembrandt's Eyes and three volumes of A History of Britain. He is also the writer-presenter of historical and art-historical documentaries for BBC Television. He lives outside New York City with his wife and children.
The appearance of this book is certain to be one of the main publishing events of the bicentennial year of the French Revolution. It blends gritty details about everyday life with an old-fashioned, dramatic narrative form. Among other things, Schama argues that the Old Regime fell not because it was stagnant but because it was moving too fast. Unlike Marxists and ``new historians,'' Schama stresses the importance of individual events and people. He detects the emergence of a patriotic culture of citizenship in the decades preceding 1789 and explains how citizenship came to be a public expression of an idealized family during the Revolution. One criticism: there are no footnotes citing sources. Despite this flaw, Schama's book will please scholars and a wide general readership.-- Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., N.Y.
The Old Regime, far from being moribund on the eve of the French Revolution, bristled with signs of dynamism and energy, writes Schama in this sprawling, provocative, sometimes infuriating chronicle that stands much conventional wisdom on its head. His contention is that the Revolution did not produce a ``patriotic culture of citizenship'' but was preceded by one. The privileged classes, he argues, were open to new blood, and a ``capitalist nobility'' deeply involved in industrial enterprise supported technological innovation. If Schama ( The Embarrassment of Riches ) is correct, the fiscal havoc of Louis XVI's regime did not have revolution as its inevitable outcome, but a cult of violence, endorsed by romanticism, became the engine of historical change in a country gripped by paranoia. Schama's startling revisionist synthesis is enriched by over 200 illustrations bringing popular arts and revolutionary fervor to life. 40,000 first printing; BOMC main selection. (Apr.)
YA-- This well-written, thoroughly documented book should be on every high-school library shelf. It explains the self-destructive, bloody orgy that occurred in France but not in England or Prussia, countries in similar states of poverty and with similarly deprived, disenfranchised populaces. Schama theorizes that the cause of France's revolution lies in the self-deception of the ruling intelligentsia, who believed that they could make a Utopian France by allowing controlled violence, murder, and the destruction of property in the name of liberty, and all to exist simultaneously with good government. Schama presents Talleyrand, Lafayette, and others with more understanding than they are given in most histories, setting them amidst a web of violence of their own making. This book speaks to today's world, as nations strive to move from despotism to democracy. A more modern view of these same problems is found in Z. Brzezinski's The Grand Failure (Scribners , 1989) .--Barbara Batty, Port Arthur I.S.D., TX
"Dazzling...stimulating...This is no ordinary book...Schama does not merely write brilliantly about people, about events, about the abuse of rhetoric, and about festivals and executions. He also chronicle with a dramatic burst of poetic imagination.... The virtues of this book Ýlie in the coruscating brilliance of dazzling display of erudition and intelligence ... His chronicle is, after all, a stunningly virtuoso performance." -- Lawrence Stone, "The New Republic" "One of The Best Books Of The Decade." -- "Time" "Monumental...a delight to read...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." -- "The New York Times Book Review" "Citizens, like the great 19th-century narratives it emulates, makes entertainment and erudition work hand in hand....As no other recent historian of the revolution, Schama brings to life the excitement -- and harrowing terror -- of an epochal human event." -- "Newsweek" "A fresh and elegant narrative...A brilliantly readable and beautifully illustrated account." -- "Washington Post Book World" "We are in the hands of a master storyteller...Vivid, dramatic, thought-provoking...Schama's portrait of the revolution is often surprising...His splendid recounting convinces us that much of what we thought we knew is wrong." -- "Time" "From the Trade Paperback edition."