I read this strange and interesting book in the free Kindle-Store version, but it might be worth accessing a copy of more recent vintage, if possible, if you can find an edition with adequate footnotes. This bestseller of the year 1899 is an interesting look into, among other things, what an educated person thought other educated people would know, and therefore would not need to be explained. Being a clam of (barely) adequate eduction, I knew that, for example, Fagin was the Jewish guy from Oliver Twist and the Father of History is Herodutus, but many references sent me diving for Google Voice Search. But even our Google information overlords were stumped by the reference to “Widow Windham and her illustrious consort” (Kindle location 679), which made me feel less ashamed of my own ignorance.
In our age, it seems like people sometimes read this book to try to fill their God-shaped hole, especially if you are a tough guy or aspiring tough guy who wants a dignified philosophical background for your life of conflict and combat. I'm as tough as a bag of mini-marshmallows, so it didn't do a lot for me, but you could do a lot worse than try to follow the behavioral dicta of this book, since it implies that self-denial and restrain are worthwhile qualities. The world would probably be a better place if more people felt the same....more
Every generation gets the French Revolution it deserves*, and this book might be ours.
Drawing parallels between long-gone periods and one's own time cEvery generation gets the French Revolution it deserves™*, and this book might be ours.
Drawing parallels between long-gone periods and one's own time can be tedious and pointless. Nevertheless, here I go, inspired by this book. I will attempt brevity (minimizing tediousness) and leave it to the reader to judge whether I have a point.
Let X equal a profound idea: revolutionary equality then, globalization now. A small group of self-styled original thinkers of the capital and similar large cities introduce X into the public discourse. Some people object to X.
“You fail to understand the great benefit X will bring,” the s.-s. original thinkers say. “With that additional prosperity and brotherhood, we will have more resources to help those disadvantaged by the inevitable changes.”
After a while, the thinkers convince a sufficient number of politicians and average citizens that X is a great idea. Objectors, the thinkers say, are hopelessly shortsighted and/or insufficiently interested in the greater public interest. X is adopted as government policy.
X causes some people to be better off (I call them, non-judgmentally, “winners”) and others worse (“losers”). Some of the losers are those who objected to X in the first place; others are former enthusiasts. Many of the losers live outside the capital, which is generally the place that the ambitious wish to be, thanks to X.
“Hey, wait a minute,” the losers say. “You said X would bring great benefit, but things suck worse than before outside the capital, and that help you implied would materialized never did so. Plus I have lost A, B, and C, all things that I cherished before.”
The winners reply: “Overall, however, X has benefitted many people, even though none of them are friends of yours. Sorry about the lack of help, maybe some will come soon. Also, A, B, and C were all things that were holding you back and you are really better off without them.”
The losers do not agree, especially with the last, and take arms (literally and figuratively) against the winners.
End of (over-)extended metaphor.
This excellent book is an interesting reworking of the story of the French Revolution. The dramatic stories (e.g., Louis's attempted escape, the taking of the Bastille, Marat's assassination, etc.) appear but in dried-out, minimized versions, so the focus of the book can stay on a category of people whom (I believe) have been underreported in virtually every episode of history, specifically, average folks living outside the capital. Because of this unorthodox approach, this might not be the best starting point for complete French Revolution newbies. However, it is very clear and readable, so anybody who can recall their last European history survey class should not be confused.
This book seeks to do the same admirable thing for 1790's France that English historian David Kynaston is doing for mid-20th century England, that is, bring to our attention the voices of the unfamous who were living through the events, through their letters, memoirs, diary entries, and the like. I find this extremely admirable, no matter the era, and I invite you to think the same.
*Nota bene: There is no documentation (on Google) that the profound-sounding turn of phrase “Every generation gets the French Revolution it deserves” has been uttered by anyone, not even Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, or Oscar Wilde, who between them seem to have said most everything else. I therefore claim it as the property of the International Bon Mot Partnership, LLC, a legal entity with registration pending in the state of Delaware and the Cayman Islands. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this quotation, in writing, by voice, or by any other means (including but not limited to Morse Code and semaphore flags), without the express written consent of the International Bon Mot Partnership, LLC, is prohibited. Violators will be hounded to death by greed-crazed intellectual property attorneys to the fullest extent of the law, which is a much further extent than is seemly or reasonable....more