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The French Revolution: A History

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  823 ratings  ·  71 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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Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This the most unusual history you are ever likely to read, dear Reader. Not, it must be emphasized, historical "fiction". One may perhaps best call it historical/philosophical Drama.

The work not unbiased recitation of fact; rather, a poetic play, the author shifting perspective and tense, at times most blatantly writing in the first person - plural/present - observing the events of which he writes as they happen. (He, Thomas Carlisle - Scottish philosopher, historian, satirist, essayist, mat
William West
Jul 27, 2012 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
Dec 04, 2014 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
Alice Poon
Oct 28, 2015 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,
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Mar 20, 2014 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
Sep 11, 2013 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
Nov 15, 2012 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
Mar 21, 2015 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! ...more
May 27, 2012 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
Apr 06, 2011 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.
Charles Gonzalez
I gave it 5 because it was one of the most original books I have read; that is was written over 100 years ago makes its adventurous and passionate approach to the subject even more amazing. As other reviewers have stated, this is not the book for a blow by blow history of the French Revolution....don't think Carlyle intended it to be; then he was writing about the the biggest political revolution of his time, less than 30 years in the past, as recent as if a writer today was to write about the R ...more
Jun 23, 2013 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
Nov 16, 2016 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
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
They don't write them like this anymore and that is a shame. ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I don't think this should have been the first book I read on the subject. ...more
James Whyle
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-canon
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
Jul 11, 2014 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
Chris Purser
Very interesting history of the revolution.
Em Nordling
Aug 12, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-library
just to be clear, i LOVED hating this book.

also i never actually QUITE finished it but, oh, thomas, i will be back.
I wasn't sure it would ever happen, but I finished Carlyle's French Revolution.
It’s tough going! Carlyle’s style is poetic, a little bit archaic, and very much idiosyncratic. The author introduces important historical figures without pausing to explain who these characters are, where they are from, or what their significance to events will be. Often people and places will be referred to interchangeably by several different names. The cadance of the text is often more akin to speech than clear-h
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The French Revolution is not so much a "history" - in the shared sense that many among us will assume - as much as it is an epic vision quest (or, as Carlyle says, a "flame-picture"). That the work challenges and bewilders many readers - that it doesn't always offer a comprehensive, clearly delineated and digestible sequence of events; that it is radically neo-archaic in style, obscure in allusion and reference, that it digresses, ruminates, speculates and wonders aloud before the reader - is du ...more
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
History as Epic (capital ‘E’)

This is likely the most challenging book I have ever read. Carlyle doesn’t make much effort to explain who people are or refresh your memory when you haven’t seen a character for 250 pages. At times his prose is dense to the point of absurdity. My kindle tells me I have looked up 700+ words in this book, or roughly a word a page. At many times this book is exhausting.

Yet I have never read anything that captures the chaos and delirium of real world events like Carlyle
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mutiny in Nancy: Lafayette sends Bouille and 4,500 troops to the city of Nancy to quell the mutiny.
The two French regiments submitted and left the city, but Châteauvieux (the Swiss Guards) refused to surrender. Reinforced by a section of the National Guard and the people of Nancy, it occupied the Stainville gate, the only one that was fortified. Bouillé’s soldiers attacked, took the gate and occupied the town under heavy fire from the windows. By evening, however, order was restored and hundre
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 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 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." ...more
James Spencer
Aug 01, 2012 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 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.
it took some perseverance but I made it and it was more than worthwhile
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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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“Hunger whets everything, especially Suspicion and Indignation.” 6 likes
“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
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