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Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,508 Ratings  ·  186 Reviews
Instead of a dying Old Regime, Schama presents an ebullient country, vital & inventive, infatuated with novelty & technology. A fresh view of Louis XVI's France. A NY Times cloth bestseller. 200 illustrations.
Preface; Powers of Recall--40 Years Later; Alterations: The France of Louis XVI; New Men: Fathers & Sons, Heroes for the Times; Blue Horizons, Red Ink: Le
Paperback, 948 pages
Published March 17th 1990 by Random House, Inc. (NYC) (first published 1989)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it liked it
I wanted to read about the French Revolution. So I searched on Amazon for the biggest, cheapest book that I could find, to give me an overview. Now, the French Revolution is complicated. It makes the start of World War I seem simple and inevitable. This book will not help clear that up. Which is not to say that this is a bad book. Rather, it's not a starter book. You should probably know a little bit about what's going on before you crack the covers. I am ashamed to say I had to use Wikipedia to ...more
Aug 11, 2015 ·Karen· rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Schama takes 700 odd pages to cover the period from 1778 to the death of Robespierre in 1794, something that other no less respectable historians manage to do in a fraction of the space. So what is Schama doing differently? For one thing he scrupulously avoids any kind of schematization, any form of large structural overview, instead concentrating on what indeed he declares it to be in the title, a chronicle, a careful catalogue of events, without giving them ideological interpretation. He also ...more
Jan 18, 2008 Janitor-X is currently reading it
Poor Louis XVI. He just wanted to make maps and hang out with sailors.
Jul 25, 2007 Robert rated it did not like it
Dear Mr Schama,
If you can't find the time to edit your own books then might I suggest hiring someone to edit them for you?
Erik Graff
Apr 08, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Schama fans
Recommended to Erik by: Tim Koponen
Shelves: history
This is an excellent, enjoyable narrative about the period surrounding and including the French revolution, but it is not a great history. Schama does make his points, two of them being (1) that things weren't so bad and were getting better in 1789 and (2) the revolution was a bloody and unnecessary affair. He does not, however, prove much of everything by what amounts to a rather unsystematic collection of facts and anecdotes. Nor does he pay sufficient attention to what the events of the revol ...more
Audrey Babkirk Wellons
May 13, 2008 Audrey Babkirk Wellons rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who hate history
Reading this book made me want to read more history -- or, at least, more history written by Mr. Schama.

You can get a taste of his style in his recent New Yorker article (link below), but he basically introduces the reader to a subject with colorful characters and the social climate that they lived in. I certainly didn't know that Ben Franklin was a fashionable superstar in France for a time, or that one of the causes of the Revolution was financial mismanagement.

I got a little weary after Lou
Feb 23, 2009 Joe rated it it was amazing
Outstanding piece of narrative history that overturns many long held views on the origins and progress of the revolution. In particular it shows how widespread change was already underway whilst the monarchy was still in charge and strips away a lot of the Marxist ideology that had informed so much of the historiography. The result is a far less glamourous and heroic epoch. Schama is no reactionary and this book is an important corrective to a lot of previously unquestioned assumptions.

The book
Apr 30, 2010 Michelle rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: masochists
The real achievement in this book is that the author managed to make one of the most lively and interesting periods in history not only boring, but painfully, excruciatingly boring.

The French Revolution was bloody and funny and dark and incredible and really important to present day events. Yet trying to read this account of it is most like being slowly torn to bits by a mob while on heavy tranquilizers.

The writing is bad, the organization is schizophrenic, and it is several hundred pages too
M. Ritchey
Dec 14, 2009 M. Ritchey rated it it was amazing
This is the best history of the French Revolution I have ever read, even if it betrays a very disturbing pro-Israeli slant. I know that sounds weird because 18th century France has nothing to do with the foundation of Israel, but Schama is one of those guys who thinks the Palestinians are dirty animals (I'm paraphrasing) and he takes every opportunity to compare revolutionary stuff to the Holocaust. Which is an unsettling bias, because, while the French revolution and Reign of Terror were undoub ...more
Matt Smith
May 02, 2016 Matt Smith rated it liked it
Before 10th Grade The French Revolution was something I was only moderately aware of. I guess I knew it was violent and it was a big deal but it was French and I was American and really who needs that when you have this? And when I studied it in 10th Grade history class I found it interesting, not realizing it was a seed that would grow and grow and grow until now when it is, really, one of the pieces of history that I find impossibly captivating. And given that we spent... maybe two weeks on th ...more
Aug 07, 2014 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Schama’s history of the French Revolution examines the period from about 1780, nearly a decade before the Revolution “officially” began, to its apparent climax and quasi-resolution in the month of Thermidor of 1794. A history written about any event and any period has at least two aspects, the presenting of a chronology of events on the one hand, and, on the other, an interpretation that includes hypotheses about causes and implications of what occurred. Schama’s monumental work – nearly 9 ...more
Mikey B.
Jan 30, 2013 Mikey B. rated it really liked it
Shelves: france, history
A detailed book on the French Revolution. The best aspects of this book are when the author becomes personal – as when he is describing the lives of individuals – Talleyrand, Lafayette, the King and Queen, Mirabeau... The first portion of the book lacks chronology – there is a constant shifting to and fro between 1770 and 1789 and events become confusing. Starting with Part II there is a sequence and key aspects of the Revolution are well described, such as the seizure of the Bastille.

Myths are
Dec 30, 2014 CD rated it liked it
Shelves: history, paris-france
Did the great French Revolution begin on a nasty rumor? Who really was imprisoned and when in the Bastille? Finally and the denouement to the whole nastiness of about ten years, why was there a lion locked up in the Bastille?

The story of the French Revolution is told in a series of interconnected personal histories, anecdotes, and from a historical viewpoint in this work by Simon Schama. Schama eschews the political science timeline and gets to the heart of the matter in a detailed account of th
Melissa Berninger
Oct 16, 2011 Melissa Berninger rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I read this years ago but have been thinking about it a lot lately. It's a good corrective to the received wisdom that the French Revolution was a smashing success and one that should be used as a model for the present. He argues that the "terror" wasn't an anomaly--violence fueled the Revolution from the outset. From the New York Times review: "Mr. Schama is at his most powerful when denouncing the central truth of the Revolution: its dependence on organized (and disorganized) killing to attain ...more
Oct 20, 2007 Penny rated it it was amazing
Fabulous book. A history of France from the last decades of monarchy through the end of the Terror in 1794. Schama manages to be both epic and personal. He walks you through the economic and political woes of the ancien regime, the initial idealism and euphoria of the revolution, its early monarchist leanings and the gradual rise of fanaticism and intolerance. His insightful, sympathetic stories of the various people concerned keeps the human interest so that the history does not seem too dry. T ...more
Apr 14, 2011 Denerick rated it really liked it
Schama pretty much reaffirms my general worldview and my personal opinion of the French revolution. He dwells on the descent of the revolution into primal violence, which he argues gave it both its legitimacy and its energy. The full horror of the Terror, the crushing of the Vendean rebels, the brutal dechristianisation is all laid bare. Schama is biased. Which is good. History without bias is merely a chronicle, something which Schama alludes to in his subtitle ('A Chronicle of the French Revol ...more
Nov 09, 2013 Joel rated it really liked it
If you think humanity is perfectible and 'democratic' revolutions are a good thing, you should read this book to be disabused of your notions. Schama describes the bloody and horrific French Revolution by focusing on personalities and how they drove it. We are forced to watch as the Revolution devours itself and wave after wave of reformers end up executed by the wave that follows them. Attacks on the Church were front and center as the Jacobins took over. Women and children were buried alive an ...more
Mar 06, 2009 Kelly marked it as to-read
Shelves: owned
I've always adored Simon Schama's storytelling. Is it melodramatic at times? Yes. Does he have his biases? Oh yes. Do I love it anyway? Absolutely.
Apr 11, 2008 Bap rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book is so undisciplined and dissatisfying. Cluttered. A chore to read.
Chris Gager
Sep 08, 2014 Chris Gager rated it really liked it
I've had this for a while and have been avoiding it. Why? You know, it's that "history" thing. Pretty good so far... I'll be looking for some explanation for all the civilized bloodletting.

Long way to go and I'm having to contend with a wandering mind when I'm reading. SS is a capable and interesting writer but he's trying to cover EVERYTHING that he thinks made a significant contribution to the Revolution and it's aftermath. That's a lot of people and "things" and it can get a bit dry. Hey! It'
Peter Crouse
Jul 05, 2012 Peter Crouse rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A masterpiece of narrative history. Shama traces the journey of a large dramatis personae, composed of figures both well-known and obscure, from the academic salons of the Ancien Regime, through the heady days of 1789 and down to the frenzied brutality of the Jacobin Terror. Emphasis is placed on 'feeling' the Revolution rather than examining it purely objectively. As such, it is a chronicle that leans more towards story-telling as opposed to rational analysis. This approach underlines Schama's ...more
Steve.  g
Sep 03, 2013 Steve. g rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is a fascinating book in which Simon Schama brilliantly sets out the environment and culture of 18th c France, what people were doing and thinking before the revolution, the bread shortages and the crop failures and the corrupt form of tax collection. I try and keep an eye out for a telling bit to include in this but with 'Citizens' there’s something great on every page.

It being France as well when the author writes about, say ,the peoples march on Versailles from the Tuileries you find y
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Nov 08, 2011 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides marked it as decided-not-to-read
Shelves: history
I was looking to have my memory refreshed about Camille Desmoulins, but this book only has bits and pieces of info about him, and not a real biographical sketch. It's odd that (at least for popular audiences) Desmoulins has had much more fiction written about him than non-fiction. At least in terms of sheer numbers of pages. (Depending on how you look at things, Desmoulins was either a major or important minor or minor/unimportant figure in the French Revolution. This is probably the best page o ...more
Elephant of the Bastille

Arrogant and bloated style and in such detail that after a while one just wants to scream. 948 pages of it! Skimming through the really snoozy parts but after twenty hours of listening I have still over half to go.

Seven months later: Loaded what was left of this into the mp3 so I could garden and walk and that worked better for me. Saying that though, I am glad to see the back of it!

Jan 04, 2016 Florence rated it really liked it
Reading this book was an epic journey. I had to keep Wikipedia close at hand since my knowledge of French history is sparse. What a profound drama! The book is meticulously researched. Economic, social, political conditions in the pre revolutionary period are covered in great detail. But no amount of sedate knowledge can soften the horror of a society gone mad with bloodlust. The events in this book frightened me. The thin veneer of French civilization seems to disappear overnight, spurred on by ...more
Jul 28, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing
I took this on over winter break, and it was fantastic. More than just an outstanding history, the book, through its almost Enlightenment-like desire to offer an encyclopedic reach of the events of the Revolution, both makes moral judgements (violence, Schama argues, was at the core of the revolution from its start-- seed of both its triumphs and tragedies)but leaves moral amibiguity (we follow Tallyerand and other French ex-Patriots into exhile on the shores of America, an ironically unfamiliar ...more
Antonio Nunez
Jan 12, 2016 Antonio Nunez rated it it was amazing
I read this book when it came out for the bicentennial of the French Revolution and thought it one of the best books I'd read until then. I took it up again at the end of 2015 and I confirmed my judgement. It is a wise, courageous, clever, learned, humane book. It engages with history but it doesn't take sides. I particularly liked that Schama explains the mindset of the architects of the Terror but doesn't shy away from its consequences at the individual level. I'm glad we can all profit from t ...more
Todd Stockslager
Too much chronicle, not enough craft. I hoped to learn why the French Revolution failed so spectacularly and the American did not. I have some clues, but wish the author had provided more analysis.

Defining failure and success is fairly simple. The French Revolution degenerated into incredible violence against its own people (they have met the enemy, and the enemy was them) and was politically unstable until it reverted back to Napoleonic dictatorship. The American revolution succeeded in its pur
Aug 08, 2016 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I consider this to be an excellent treatment of the French Revolution. First, considering the state of affairs as the monarchy came to a close, it is easy to contemplate modern circumstances that that so rile the populace as an out-of-control bureaucracy - especially as that which replaced it during "the Terror" seemed almost worse, although different. One particular thought that crossed my mind is the state of free speech as our college campuses seem bound and determined to bring to an end our ...more
Jun 14, 2010 Becky rated it it was amazing
Wonderful overview of the French Revolution - although it's not scholarly or in depth, it's certainly none too brief. I learned so much about the complexity of this defining event in Western history - the advent of modern history, perhaps. Schama writes well although he tends to digress. The book is well organized and lives up to the subtitle - "a Chronicle..." So many people, so many differences from the American and English traditions.
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Goodreads Librari...: Please add cover & narrator for Citizens audiobook. 4 128 Aug 20, 2016 10:09AM  
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Simon Schama was born in 1945. The son of a textile merchant with Lithuanian and Turkish grandparents, he spent his early years in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. When his parents moved to London he won a scholarship to Haberdashers’ Aske’s School where his two great loves were English and History. Forced to choose between the two he opted to read history at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Here he was taught ...more
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“a young student had written to his father, justifying his decision to volunteer by declaring that “our liberty can only be assured if it will have for its bed a mattress of cadavers… I consent to become one of those cadavers.” 0 likes
“. . .for the designated successor to royal authority, the Sovereign People, was no more capable than Louis XVI of reconciling freedom with power.” 0 likes
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