Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “City of Darkness, City of Light” as Want to Read:
City of Darkness, City of Light
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

City of Darkness, City of Light

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,030 Ratings  ·  94 Reviews
In her most splendid, thought-provoking novel yet, Marge Piercy brings to vibrant life three women who play prominent roles in the tumultuous, bloody French Revolution--as well as their more famous male counterparts.

Defiantly independent Claire Lacombe tests her theory: if men can make things happen, perhaps women can too. . . . Manon Philipon finds she has a talent for p
Paperback, 479 pages
Published August 12th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published 1996)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about City of Darkness, City of Light, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about City of Darkness, City of Light

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it

My friend Jemidar and I decided to read this book together because after finishing Hilary Mantel's wonderful A Place of Greater Safety, we missed its chief protagonists, that is, Camille Desmoulins, Georges-Jacques Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, and we wanted to further immerse ourselves in the events of the French Revolution. The novel tells the stories of Danton and Robespierre, along with those of three other players in the Revolution: actress Claire Lacombe and chocolate maker Pauline Lé

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Perhaps the most common thing every nation in the world shares is its ability to leave people behind when progressive change occurs. Abigail Adams reminded her husband to not forget women when America was being founded, and of course, he did. Women helped in World War I and they still didn’t even have the vote. There are still debates about whether African-American women should put men’s rights before all rights. In fact, that is not doubt true for any minority cult
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it

Well written and very well researched novel about the French Revolution which refreshingly included a couple of characters who are not amoung the usual suspects when reading about the revolution. Besides the well known Danton and Robespeirre and the slightly lesser known Manon Roland and Nicolas Condorcet, we also follow Claire Lacombe and Pauline Leon who founded the first all women's political organisation (the Revolutionary Republican Women) so there's a nice mix of point of views from men an
I enjoyed this and it certainly makes the events of the French Revolution palpable. I did not love it, however, because the writing seemed to eschew any sense of interpersonal drama and incident.
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
brilliant. read it 3 times :)
This was a wonderful book and I will definitely write a review about it soon!
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was very well written, but the first half dragged for me. In the beginning, I struggled to keep the characters and their backgrounds straight. I put the book down for about a month, and when I had a little more time, to read, I picked it up again. The second half went much more quickly. The author did a fantastic job of fictionalizing some of the French Revolution's more important players.
Perry Whitford
A breakneck recreation of the momentous events of the French Revolution, expertly told through the eyes of six diverse combatants, ideally chosen women and men who helped shape events from the streets and salons:

Claire - Lacombe, starts out a poor laundress in the southern town of Pamiers, but has dreams of a better life and runs off with a traveling troop of actors, eventually playing the role of Liberty in pro-revolutionary plays, taking to the streets with the Society of Revolutionary Republi
Jan 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
To be honest, I was initially certain that this novel couldn't equal the incandescently brilliant 'A Place of Greater Safety' by Hilary Mantel. This put it at rather a disadvantage, but nonetheless I ended up enjoying it nearly as much as Mantel's masterpiece. Piercy uses six different points of view to show how the French Revolution unfolded, of which three are women. This is where the two novels differed most importantly, in my view. In 'A Place of Greater Safely' I felt very close to Robespie ...more
This book was an enjoyable novelistic summary of the French Revolution: pre- , during, and post-, with an epilogue, [not called as such] of three characters meeting years later [1812] and discussing what had been accomplished during the Revolution years, even with the excesses. The story follows six main figures: Robespierre, Danton, Condorcet and three women [who seemed like platforms for Piercy's blatant feminism]. The first part of the novel: years 1780-1791 were much more interesting. 1792 d ...more
Dec 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Piercy at her best. Though in my opinion she is very nearly never at less than her best.
Suzanne Prichard
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
It cured me of my obsession with the French Revolution. What is that called, the technique of having every chapter be a different character - and nobody ever really interacts? I I know - LAZY!
Lora Shouse
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
City of Darkness, City of Light is a novel about the French Revolution. In it, Marge Piercy follows the lives of six people who were movers and shakers in the Revolution: three men – Georges Danton, Maximilian Robespierre, and Marie Jean Nicholas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet – and three women – Pauline Leon, Claire Lacombe, and Manon Roland.

Danton and Robespierre were both lawyers before the Revolution and worked their way into leadership positions in the various legislative bodies that came i
Susan Liston
2.5. Oh well, a bit disappointing. I dearly loved Marge Piercy's book about World War II, "Gone to Soldiers". I don't know how I missed knowing this book existed, a seemingly similar one about the French Revolution, or I would have read it years ago. It came to my attention while I was recently plodding through "A Place of Greater Safety" by Hilary Mantel, which I had some problems with. I had thought these problems stemmed from my unexplained discomfort with Ms Mantel's writing style, which, wh ...more
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't put it down. Don't know how I missed reading this earlier. This well researched book makes the chaos of the French revolution understandable. I repeatedly checked the encyclopedia while reading this and believe Piercy breathes life these historical icons. I highly recommend this work.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read this one whilst in Paris.
Kilian Metcalf
Marge Piercy obviously did a boatload of research for this novel. Unfortunately, that didn't result in a good novel. Although there were only six main characters, it seemed like a lot more, and their lack of interaction or relation to each other was confusing. I wanted to know more about the events leading up to the French Revolution, but I'll try Hilary Mantel to learn what I want to know.
Donna Davis
Piercy is a legend among feminists, and her writing was pivotal in my own development during the late 1970s and early 1980s as a newly-hatched adult. When this title, a novel based on the French Revolution, came out in 1996, I put it on my Christmas list and read it hungrily once I received it. When I noticed that it was released digitally this spring, I scored a digital copy from Open Road Integrated Media and Net Galley in exchange for this honest review. It’s a novel that is definitely worth ...more
Dec 21, 2009 rated it liked it
This book offers a reader-friendly account of the French Revolution through six men and women who played an active role in it: well known figures like Robespierre, Danton, Mme Roland, Condorcet and some less recognizable ones (unsurprisingly enough women) like the actress Claire Lecombe and the chocolate maker Pauline Leon, who were the leaders of a protofeminist women's group.

It was certainly interesting to learn about the latter ones, as I had hardly ever heard about them. It was equally inte
Viki Sonntag
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting times to read about the French revolution
Aug 26, 2011 rated it liked it
City... tells the tumultuous tale of the French Revolution from the point of view of a number of key players in the events of the time.

The Good
Most tales of the French Revolution follow the key players: Robespierre, Danton, Desmoulins... but I liked that this book introduced me to two new individuals from the time: Claire Lacombe and Pauline Leon, and was therefore able to provide a more personalized and detailed account of the strong role women played in the revolution- more than just "hey, th
Oct 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, own, bookclub
Marge Piercy recreates a well-rounded experience of The French Revolution by alternating the point-of-view of different characters: Claire (an actress), Max (Robespierre), Nicolas (an academic), Manon (an artisan's daughter/bureaucrat's wife), Pauline (a chocolatier), and Georges (an aspiring politician).

Through these main characters the reader learns how the revolution affected different groups of people. Pauline and Claire are the closest to the poor people (the sans-coulottes) and the women w
Jessica Bronder
Apr 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story takes place during the French Revolution but focuses on women during this time. We follow an actress, and aristocrat’s wife and a chocolate shop owner among others. We follow along as each is affected by the Revolution and how each finds their own ways to change its outcome.

I love how we have a variety of people from different social standings. You have a shop owner fighting day to day and an aristocrat’s wife writing his speeches. This book gives the untold stories that you don’t he
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Francophiles, History buffs, and anyone who enjoys a great book.
Recommended to Stana by: Rachel Bonk
For me, Reading Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light was like entering a time machine; it made me feel I was actually living through the French Revolution! The story is told through six actual historical figures: Claire Lacombe, Maximilien Robespierre, Manon Roland, Pauline Leon, Marie Jean Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet and Georges-Jacques Danton. Through their actions and associations, we meet most of the major figures of the period. I read this book for the first time about 1 ...more
Jan 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
I just reread this. It's great historical fiction with strong female characters. And they strong without making them seem too modern for the setting like in the Red Tent or books like that. And Piercy puts women at the center of some of the great Fr. Rev action -- but she also very realistically keeps them out of the decision making and the end absolutely rings true.

The portrayal of Robespierre is especially good here because he comes across as much more human and more real than he ever did in
Nov 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this novel, which depicts the French Revolution from the alternating (third person) perspectives of six major figures, who each played different but important roles within it: Claire Lacombe, Pauline Léon, Manon Roland, Nicolas de Condorcet, Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton. Each protagonist's voice is distinct, and Piercy portrays them all in a sympathetic yet even-handed way. The events themselves are not over-simplified either - in particular, while the paranoia and ...more
Nov 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Marge Piercy's historical novels are well-researched forays into a kind of history I wish they'd taught me in high school -- I might have paid more attention! City of Darkness, City of Light chronicles the tumult of the French Revolution from the perspective of about five real historical characters, including two women responsible for co-founding the Republican Revolutionary Women, a political and activist organization comprised entirely of women who made public speeches, demonstrated in the Leg ...more
Mar 22, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up
The first couple hundred pages of this book were very interesting - the French Revolution from the point of view of the vampire several different players (Robespierre, Danton, sans-culotte women and more) but I've really been struggling to read past page 300.

The one thing this is really bringing home to me is how long the revolution took; in school we just kind of learned "blah blah Bastille, blah blah Tennis Court Oath, and then there was a revolution, lots of people died, let's move on to Napo
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time with this book.First there were too many characters to really keep track of. Each chapter had a different character and there was more telling than showing. By the time I got through several more characters I had forgotten what I read about the character five chapters back. The book was also very politic and I am not very interested in politics. Although I was interested in the first part of the book, by the middle I was yawning and toward the end, I was just plowing through.
Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Danton, Condorcet and Robespierre. Or as we get to know them in this book, Georges, Nicolas and Max. As the French revolution unfolds, what is daily life like for them? What mundane thoughts do they have about city life, companionship and pets? And what of Claire and Pauline, an actress and chocolatier who find new lives, friends and comrades as they work to make their voices heard and advance the revolution they want to see? Piercy is a master at creating a world you can smell, taste and touch ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Gods Are Thirsty: A Novel of the French Revolution
  • Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France
  • The Gods Will Have Blood
  • When the King Took Flight
  • The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France
  • Minette
  • Hearts and Bones (Hannah Trevor Trilogy, #1)
  • Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends
  • A Place of Greater Safety
  • Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871
  • The Astronomer
  • Autobiography of Mother Jones
  • Mistress of the Revolution
  • Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice
  • Women Of Wisdom
  • A Treasury of Regrets (Aristide Ravel, #4)
  • Finding Emilie
  • The Knight of Maison-Rouge
Marge Piercy (born March 31, 1936) is an American poet, novelist, and social activist. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller Gone to Soldiers, a sweeping historical novel set during World War II.

Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a family deeply affected by the Great Depression. She was the first in her family to attend college, studying at the University of Michigan. Winning a
More about Marge Piercy...

Share This Book