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The Oxford History of the French Revolution
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The Oxford History of the French Revolution

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  563 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
draws on the generation of unprecedented research and scholarly debate to reappraise the greatest of all revolutions, and its impact on France and Europe. Opening with the accession of Louis XVI in 1774, it traces the history of France through revolution, terror, and counter-terror, to the triumph of Napolean in 1802, and analyses the impact of events in France upon the re ...more
Hardcover, 466 pages
Published July 13th 1989 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1989)
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British academic writing at its best, for me. Doyle takes an obviously enormous subject and sets it out in clear, economical and often wryly funny prose and manages to make it readable, concise and as thorough as an introductory volume is going to get. You do not need any prior knowledge of the French Revolution to tackle this volume. However if you do have a bit I promise you it still offers an excellent refresher: it is not just a long series of names, dates and major events designed to give y ...more
Josh Liller
I read this because I was taking a college class on the French Revolution and Napoleon, although it was not assigned reading. This seems to be a pretty comprehensive history of the French Revolution. I particularly liked the first chapter giving a wide survey of the conditions in France pre-Revolution and the concluding chapter that analyzes the impact of the Revolution and the lasting effects it had on French society. Despite being a general history it is at times quite insightful.

However, whil
Jan 16, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
for some reason i wanted to know about the french revolution. But i didn't want to know about the COUNTLESS PARLIAMENTS and CONSTITUTIONAL DRAFTS or WHATEVER ELSE WHAT HAVE YOU POLITICAL NONSENSE. A revolution is not about law, its about CRAZY HISTORICAL ADVENTURE AND DRAMA! Its supposed to be like A Tale of Two Cities, Madame Defarge, the storming of the Bastille, condemnatory knitting, and the beheading of the Aristocracy!... which comprised about 1% of this book [no mention of knitting]. I ma ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall this is a very readable book about the French Revolution. I'm not sure it would work for the complete novice - because I'm not, so I can't judge that anymore. But it gives a generally thorough overview of the French Revolution and, interestingly, its impact on the wider world; Ireland and Poland both get mentions as being inspired by the Revolution itself during the Revolution, and the rest of Europe by virtue of conquest, with Latin America being mentioned in passing. Haiti also gets a ...more
Joe Banks
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When the new revolutionary calendar was introduced in France it numbered the days and years again from the date – 22nd September 1792 – when the French Republic had been declared, it renamed the months and days and rationalised the year to twelve months of thirty days and the week to ten days. The French Revolution was full of such deliberate departures from the past, and in the superb Oxford History of the French Revolution William Doyle examines how in just a few years France tried to shed a m ...more
Mar 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has just the right level of detail for someone fairly ignorant about the subject who wants to learn a lot. However, it's not structured in a helpful way. Instead of being a chronological narrative, some chapters span a lot of time, and others less, with plenty of overlapping, which is a bit confusing for someone who doesn't have a clear overall picture of the events before reading it. The writing style is strange in some parts.

Although this is probably the book you should read if you
R.M.F Brown
Sep 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When asked the question, what did you do during the French Revolution? Talleyrand, Napoleon's chief minister, replied: "I survived..."

Upon reading this weighty tome, the reader could be forgiven for expressing similar sentiments. Authoritative, often dense, but well written and researched in parts, Doyle's work is an excellent introduction for the layman.

To be sure, there are times when a glossary of key terms would be infinitely beneficial, and often, you could be forgiven for skipping over se
Claire Rose
Read this, having bought it many years ago in a second-hand shop, in preparation for A Place of Greater Safety, and to be honest it was a bit of a slog. If it hadn't already been on my shelves, I might have chosen a different primer on the French Revolution, but at least now I know *something* about the subject!
Jan 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A decent primer on the French Revolution.
Nov 06, 2015 rated it liked it
What was the origin of revolution in eighteenth century France? The causes were many. Most importantly France had an ancient, ossified bureaucratic, tax and legal system that made changing to the times and conditions almost impossible. Add to that a bloated nobility that contributed little, meddling and powerful church leaders and a disjointed federal system resulting in widely varying laws and traditions across the country. And finally, they had a large debt (and occasional bankruptcy) caused f ...more
Jim Hopkins
Good overview.
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't read this out of personal choice, but was taking a college course on the French Revolution. It is a good introductory volume for anyone wanting to dig further into the revolution. William Doyle is obviously very knowledgeable about this subject, thus creating a good scholarly piece. Although I'm personally not interested in this sect of history, I would recommend it to anyone who is wanting to learn more about this time period, and the events surrounding the French Revolution.
For years I've intended to read something on the French Revolution and/or Napoleon. I read a short book on Napoleon a little while ago but felt that what I really wanted was a single book to cover the whole period, i.e. 1789 to 1815. After reading this book I can now see why they are usually separated into two distinct subjects as I hadn't appreciated just how complicated and confusing the French Revolution was. So much seems to happen in such short periods of time and the political situation se ...more
With such a complex subject as the French Revolution, there is simply no way that a single volume, or even a single read of a given volume, can provide anything more than a partial outline of what happened. That said, I do think this is probably the best widely available single volume on the French Revolution, its immediate precedents, and its consequences that I have yet found. However, I also recommend reading William Doyle's "Very Short Introduction" (same author and publisher as the reviewed ...more
Dec 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
William Doyle does his best in this book to marry a strong, interesting narrative account of the French Revolution with an intelligent, sensitive analysis of the complex vicissitudes of the times but ultimately his best efforts fail - for this reader at any rate. I sympathise with the earlier reviewer who longed for tales of derring-do, villainous Mme Defarges, tumbrils filled with aristos on their way to the guillotine or Marat being stabbed in the bath. What we get instead is a sound, sober, k ...more
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This detailed narrative history expertly covers the political aspects of the revolution, while separate chapters on the revolutionary wars, occupied Europe and the European response place the revolution firmly in its international context. The dates are also broad, covering both the Directory and the Consulate which some books ignore. Unfortunately, this doesn't leave much room for social, cultural or thematic information, but there are other works on the market which fill this gap, including Sc ...more
Jamie Makin
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Doyle tells us in his introduction that he was surprised to find that this book has become a standard text on the revolution as it was intended to be a popular work to coincide with the bicentenary of 1989.
This may be false modesty on his part but this book certainly did not strike me as courting the popular history market with its scholarly prose and lack of illustrations. Far more striking is the astounding amount of research and insight contained on every page of the book. When you consider D
Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A solid, comprehensive overview of the French Revolution and a good introduction to the complexities of an incredibly complex moment in history. Though Doyle's voice can be a little dry, he does his best to keep the events moving along, pausing now and then to highlight the roles played by certain famous personalities, but keeping as little of "himself" and his ideas out of the text. His setting of the stage and comprehensive description of France and French light right before the start of the R ...more
Rob Mathison
I love that this book has incredible amounts of interesting information along with primary source quotations, and overall is an interesting topic. I'm glad I read this book, but I didn't give it 4 or 5 stars because (IMHO) reading this book felt to me like I was reading someone's interesting index cards. My favorite lecturers are always the ones who tell a fascinating story while they teach, and in this book I would have liked stronger story telling so that it was a more pleasant reading experie ...more
Daniel Carr
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic, textbook
I read this book for a class on the French Revolution, and it's definitely a very dry read but it is packed full of information on France during this time period. It was the first real history book I read that does a full explanation of all historical factors that led up to the events that occurred at this time period. It gave me for the first time a real understanding of what history is truly about. I'm certainly not a historian, nor do I have a love for it, but I now have an appreciation of it ...more
Very in depth, allows readers to understand many aspects of what led to the political and social change in France. The idea of place (topography, communities, shared or apposite values) are all important aspects of where a nation is as well as how it is affected. Why it exists and how it justifies itself. The author understands this and includes many facets which, if left out, would have been nothing more than an almanac of events. His work is paramount. His understanding, well rounded. Not diff ...more
This book is massive. And yet, despite how big it is, It fails to be exhaustive. I began reading it wanting to know _something_ about a topic I knew little about. The good people at Oxford assume that their audience is fairly well versed in French History, and so gloss over much of the background. I've heard the names "Robespierre", and "St. Just", of course. This book, however, is much like the Vietnam memorial-- a bunch of names with no context.

The book did exactly it's job. And was certainly
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a revolutionary perspective of the French Revolution. Doyle tries to be objective and lay out the events without bias. He treds a fine line in this attempt, but, with such an diverse list of sources, he almost succeeds. It was not what I wanted, however. I wanted a intentionally biased history to feel the emotions in this era, even if it was a Royalist. Fortunately, we have some of those available on ebooks. They are contempoary, but so what? You can taste the revolutionary or Royali ...more
i finally finished this book after like 5 weeks of reading it because lets be honest i barely have the energy/willpower/desire/jouissance to roll my stupid husk of a decrepit body out of my bed let a lone read a 400+ page book which is NOT about french guys falling off their bikes or sucking on rocks, and whcih unironically uses the word "crapulous" . anyways this is a fairly good book about the french revolution, and anobody who says the frenchg are sissies or whatever didnt realize how many pe ...more
Emily Sullivan
Jul 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before I read this book most of what I knew about the French Revolution came from Carry on Don't Lose Your Head. Where the film is a little sketchy on historical facts,this excellent overview of the social and political circumstances leading up to and during the French Revolution is chock full of detail. The book disappointingly misses every opportunity for slapstick and innuendo and the Scarlet Pimpernel's role in saving thousands from the guillotine is entirely ignored. This book is an overvie ...more
Madonna Valentine
This is a very detailed book. I have read biographies of the French royal family that contradict a lot of the details in this book. He rather glosses over the execution of the King and the Queen (eight months later) and the very different treatment meted out to both- with Marie Antoinette getting a much tougher deal. The bloodshed, confusion and lack of common ground between warring groups is very well covered .
Jack Hrkach
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are SO many books on the French Revolution, and this one belongs near the top of the list in terms of general histories. Doyle lays out the background, the events of, and the results from the Revolution in a detailed, scholarly but readable way. I must confess I prefer Schama's book Citizens, but for balance you'll want to read Doyle too, if you're fascinated, as I am, by this cataclysmic event.
Dec 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I's like to find a DVD of Marat/Sade. I recall it as a 1970's movie version of a play about a play in a French insane asylum where I now know Marat was actually an inmate who directed plays, spending most of his time in a big bathtub because of a skin disease. Does explain some of the strange scenes, yes?
Joe Paulk
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good-history
What can I say? I love this book. For a subject as sprawling and intricate as the French Revolution, Doyle does a more than handy job of streamlining the details without turning it into Cliff's Notes. While some of his theories are a bit dated and have been surpassed by newer ones, that is easily overlooked. A thoughtful survey of one of the seminal events in Western history is what remains.
Jan 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fine history of the revolution, written with objectivity and almost more detail than I needed. It may not be exhaustive (of the writing of books on the French Revolution there will be no end), but it is written with a good narrative style that makes the exhausting amount of detail much more easy to take.
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William Doyle is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Bristol.
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“We will be paying more! ... No doubt; but who? Only those who were not paying enough; they will pay what they owe according to a just proportion, and nobody will be overburdened. Privileges will be sacrificed! … Yes: justice demands it, need requires it. Would it be better to put further burdens on the unprivileged, the people? There will be a great outcry! … That was to be expected. Can general good be done without bruising a few individual interests? Can there be reform without some complaints?8” 1 likes
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