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The French Revolution: A History

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  564 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
The book that established Thomas Carlyle’s reputation when first published in 1837, this spectacular historical masterpiece has since been accepted as the standard work on the subject. It combines a shrewd insight into character, a vivid realization of the picturesque, and a singular ability to bring the past to blazing life, making it a reading experience as thrilling as ...more
Paperback, 848 pages
Published May 14th 2002 by Modern Library (first published 1837)
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William West
Jul 27, 2012 William West rated it really liked it
There's so much to hate about this “classic” that I almost feel a little queasy saying that, at the end of the day, I do think its a great work... of a sort.

Carlyle was a nineteenth century “liberal,” which then as now means basically a conservative. He was thus horrified by the French Revolution's “excesses”- both the, I would say, excess of random carnage it eventually gave way to, and its attempts at legitimately egalitarian reform. To his credit, Carlyle makes absolutely no attempt at objec
Alice Poon
Oct 28, 2015 Alice Poon rated it liked it
Shelves: history

At last I've come to the end of this lengthy book! I won't deny that there were times when I wanted to abandon it, because the style of writing is quirky and polemic and the tone unabashedly self-righteous. I just wish there were other more readable historical works out there about this cataclysmic phase of French history.

Having said that, I'm glad that I persevered to the end. With all its shortcomings, it is still a marvelously researched, all-round account of historical events and characters,
Sep 11, 2013 Rick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Carlyle is a verbal riot, an elegant, organized, vivid compound sentence of a riot swarming over the personalities and events of the Revolution. According to Carlyle, Voltaire once demanded of his countrymen, “What have you invented?” Carlyle replies for them, “The Art of Insurrection. It was an art needed in these last singular times: an art, for which the French nature, so full of vehemence, so free from depth, was perhaps of all others the fittest.” Carlyle says little directly but few things ...more
Jun 09, 2014 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Despite its age, now nearly two hundred years old (it was published in 1837), and its idiosyncratic style, Thomas Carlyle’s history remains an important insight into the French Revolution. For the reader desiring a unique perspective on the event and a unique example of historiography, this is a book not to be missed.

The story of the writing of the book is itself of interest. Carlyle’s friend John Stuart Mill was commissioned to write a history of the French Revolution but was overwhelmed with o
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Mar 20, 2014 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis marked it as i-want-money
Recommended to Nathan "N.R." by: Nathan Jerpe
Get this. From the Intro ::

"Yet today, Carlyle is rarely read by nonspecialists and only occasionally appears on reading lists within the academy. The causes are many, not least of which is that Carlyle is one of the most allusive and innovative of English prose writers, a kind of proto-Joyce in his incessant verbal coinages, conflation of ancient myth and modern actuality, his labyrinthine narrative strategies and gift for impersonation. It is impossible to 'speed-read' Carlyle, any more than M
Apr 06, 2011 Lucy rated it it was amazing
An astonishing piece of work especially when you consider the circumstances of its writing. Apparently Dickens kept it by his side when writing TO2C...I can believe it. Not a book I would consult for dry facts, but unbeatable for sense of rising terror and loss of control. All you people with this on your to-read list - do it now.
May 27, 2012 Rozzer rated it it was ok
Regardless of a society's state of literary development there are always, I'd assume, new and different ways of addressing its literary possibilities, some fruitful and some dead ends. People experiment and some succeed. The attempts of others fall by the wayside for whatever reason. And so we come to Thomas Carlyle, offspring of a Scots peasant family who wound up exploding his way through British literary life in the second quarter of the 19th Century.

It wouldn't be easy to identify Carlyle's
Jun 23, 2013 James rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a humdrum, typical history book, what Carlyle would refer to as a "Dryasdust" (dry-as-dust) History, this is certainly not for you. It contains probably the most poetic prose ever written and is infused with so much of Carlyle's emotion and philosophy. On just about every page you'll find overt or vague references that require a deep knowledge of Roman, Greek and European history and literature to properly appreciate what is being said. A very good understanding of the Fren ...more
Jan 25, 2012 Ted rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 21, 2015 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so full of detail and depth that it feels so real. Dickens based his novel A Tale of Two Cities on this book which he called 'wonderful' in his introduction. If you read it, you'll be inspired too!
James Whyle
Jul 20, 2014 James Whyle rated it really liked it
The French Revolution: A History
by Thomas Carlyle

This line alone offers enough reason to read the book: “Men beat, the wrong way, their ploughshares into swords.”

But here are a few more quotations, not entirely irrelevant to contemporary south Africa:

Hope ushers in a Revolution, as earthquakes are preceded by bright weather.

… and always, from the beginning, there was some Millennium prophesied.

Lies, and the burden of evil they bring, are passed on; shifted from back to back; and from rank to ra
Nikolay Nikiforov
Nov 14, 2013 Nikolay Nikiforov rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Мои представления об французской революции были, как выяснилось в процессе чтения, еще более поверхностными, чем я думал.
Карлейль, во-первых, в простоте не напишет и слова, во-вторых, ожидает от читателя знаний не базовых, а основательных.
Многие фразы нужно несколько раз перечитать, чтобы понять, что они говорят, после чего нужно обращаться к википедии, чтоб разобраться о чем речь.
Если говорить о познавательной стороне вопроса, то теперь о французской революцию знаю на порядок больше, чем зна
Nov 16, 2016 Elisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Holy mammoth of a book!

I have mixed feelings about this one...

I stuck with it for two months and I don't hate it. But I didn't love it either. I really liked it once I finished it, though. The thing about these types of books is that, once every 10 pages or so, along comes a sentence that dazzles you with its brilliance. And that sort of thing keeps me hooked.

Carlyle is not objective at all and more than a bit ironic. His hatred for Marat is unsurpassed and I couldn't quite figure out if he was
Nov 15, 2012 Melodee rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, royalty
This book is not what I expected. I was truly interested in finding out about the French Revolution. Instead of presenting facts, the author chose to use very flowery, Romantic language to describe everything. People were referred to by nicknames, so half of the time, I didn't know who he was referring to. There were so many metaphors and French words that my Kindle couldn't translate. I'm not sure why I read the whole book. It seemed to take me forever. I will probably have to read another book ...more
Jul 26, 2012 Jason rated it it was amazing
I don't think this should have been the first book I read on the subject.
Sep 03, 2013 Tony rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION. (1837). Thomas Carlyle. **.
I often wonder how certain books and authors manage to stay on the list of classics throughout the years, in spite of their being essentially unreadable by most present-day readers. This work is an example of one of them. Carlyle was enormously influential during his lifetime. His opinions were sought after by the intelligentsia of the time. He left a considerable body of work behind him, most of which are agonizing reading for our modern readers
Jul 11, 2014 Peter rated it really liked it
Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities" lured me towards Thomas Carlyle's three volume text on the revolution and I'm glad to have finally read it. Carlyle's early history of the French Revolution is told in an unexpected mixture of narrative styles that provide a range of insights, from the lofty heights of retrospective analysis to the visceral first-person accounts of various proponents of the event. The writing style, though frequently archaic, is often poetic and beautiful, and environs the chronolog ...more
Darran Mclaughlin
I was so sure I was going to like Carlyle that I'm still slightly shocked by how much I didn't. A Scottish, Victorian intellectual with a fascination with German culture and celebrity fans like Mill, Dickens, Emerson, Whitman and George Elliot? Sounds fantastic. Unfortunately I absolutely hated his writing style. It was so archaic, knotty and deliberately difficult that it was a bore and a chore to read. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy complex, unusual and difficult writing styles, such as Robert Bu ...more
Richard Epstein
Dec 22, 2013 Richard Epstein rated it liked it
It is said that there is valuable stuff concealed in here, but no one bloviates like Carlyle. I believe there are people who have read this book straight through, cover to cover, beginning to end, but I doubt I've ever met one. Such a reader would require infinite patience and infinite time and nothing else to do -- no carpets to vacuum, no dogs to walk, no sestinas to write, then discard, because trying to write a sestina is a fool's errand. In short, only a god could do it, but a god wouldn't ...more
Miles Winston
Dec 06, 2010 Miles Winston rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I truly enjoyed this, particularly the last few chapters. It is more than a mere "history" and it is more than a mere "epic" to me. For the history is so eloquently arranged, so vividly cast. And the poetry is not of "formula" but of "reality," which to me makes the most beautiful poetry of all. As Carlyle is quoted in John Rosenberg's introduction, in a line which says it best: "It is part of my creed that the only Poetry is History, could we tell it right."
Aug 09, 2014 Anya rated it it was ok
Completely absurd. The writing style might be dense and difficult, but the only thing you really get out of it is pretension. It's so pompous it's actually laughable. Just check out sullivan's pictures, they're great.
James Spencer
Aug 01, 2012 James Spencer rated it really liked it
A fascinating, wonderful way to tell history. There is nothing I know of that is like it. It can be confusing if you are not already familiar with the basic outline of the French Revolution but if you are, this is telling of the tale in the most literate and thinking terms.
Craig Bryson
Epic, poetic and some times unreadable, this book should be attempted by any serious reader at least once.
I went away with more questions than answers, but that's okay- I know where to keep looking for more information..Carlyle gives us lots of clues.
Mick Maye
Jul 02, 2011 Mick Maye rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french
Beautifully written story of the French revolution that covers the years from the Bastille to the Vendemiaire. A must read, very long but the pages just flow by.
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 Sean Chick rated it really liked it
They don't write them like this anymore and that is a shame.
Rosa Ramôa
May 16, 2015 Rosa Ramôa rated it really liked it

"A história universal é um texto provisório que nós somos obrigados a ler e a escrever sem descanso e onde, ao mesmo tempo, nos escrevemos a nós".

(Thomas Carlyle)
it took some perseverance but I made it and it was more than worthwhile
Todd Stockslager
Sep 19, 2016 Todd Stockslager rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: The Epic prose-poem of the French Revolution

While Carlyle questions the effort to write "foolish history (ever, more or less, the written epitomized synopsis of Rumour)" (p. 25), he boldly attempted an epic for all time. And while any chronicler could document the bare facts leading up to the storming of the Bastille, it takes Carlyle to ask the moment the Revolution was over and the movement that finished it, and answer it this way:

"The Revolution is finished then? Mayor Bailly
Dec 04, 2014 Sud666 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
I was looking for a good book on the French Revolution to fill in some holes in my knowledge. What I received was a slightly tortuous journey into a hybrid of Shakespeare and Boetius. Is this a classic work of prose? Absolutely. Does it deserve to be listed with great historical works a la Gibbon or Plutarch? Sure. Is it a good book to pick up and read to learn about the French revolution? Absolutely NOT. The prose is painful without any of the graceful utterances of Shakespeare. I read the fir ...more
Josh Brett
Mar 09, 2015 Josh Brett rated it it was amazing
Cannot rate this highly enough. From a 21st century perspective, Carlyle's French Revolution is no way recognizable as a straightforward history, and it stands out even from his 19th century contemporaries. I have heard it described as a cross between Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Joyce's Ulysses, and this characterization is not far off. It is essentially a 900 page stream of consciousness prose poem, filled with cries of lament for the unhappy sons of Adam, references to c ...more
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Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian, critic, and sociological writer. was born in the village of Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, eldest child of James Carlyle, stonemason, and Margaret (Aitken) Carlyle. The father was stern, irascible, a puritan of the puritans, but withal a man of rigid probity and strength of character. The mother, too, was of the Scottish earth, and Thomas' education was begun at ho ...more
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“But figure his thought, when Death is now clutching at his own heart-strings, unlooked for, inexorable! Yes, poor Louis, Death has found thee. No palace walls or life-guards, gorgeous tapestries or gilt buckram of stiffest ceremonial could keep him out; but he is here, here at thy very life-breath, and will extinguish it. Thou, whose whole existence hitherto was a chimera and scenic show, at length becomest a reality: sumptuous Versailles bursts asunder, like a dream, into void Immensity; Time is done, and all the scaffolding of Time falls wrecked with hideous clangour round thy soul: the pale Kingdoms yawn open; there must thou enter, naked, all unking'd, and await what is appointed thee! Unhappy man, there as thou turnest, in dull agony, on thy bed of weariness, what a thought is thine! Purgatory and Hell-fire, now all-too possible, in the prospect; in the retrospect,--alas, what thing didst thou do that were not better undone; what mortal didst thou generously help; what sorrow hadst thou mercy on? Do the 'five hundred thousand' ghosts, who sank shamefully on so many battle-fields from Rossbach to Quebec, that thy Harlot might take revenge for an epigram,--crowd round thee in this hour? Thy foul Harem; the curses of mothers, the tears and infamy of daughters? Miserable man! thou 'hast done evil as thou couldst:' thy whole existence seems one hideous abortion and mistake of Nature; the use and meaning of thee not yet known. Wert thou a fabulous Griffin, devouring the works of men; daily dragging virgins to thy cave;--clad also in scales that no spear would pierce: no spear but Death's? A Griffin not fabulous but real! Frightful, O Louis, seem these moments for thee.--We will pry no further into the horrors of a sinner's death-bed.” 4 likes
“Hunger whets everything, especially Suspicion and Indignation.” 4 likes
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