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The Best Books on the French Revolution to read in 2024

The French Revolution is a fascinating period of France’s History marked by political change and the bloodshed known as the Reign of Terror.

Beginning with what is known as the Storm of the Bastille and officially ending with the death of Robespierre in the guillotine, the French Revolution extended until 1789 and influenced the political ideologies and ideals of the modern world.

To learn more about this tumultuous historical event, I have compiled this list of the best books on the French Revolution, covering books about some of the main characters of the revolution and comments and analyses by some of the best researchers on the topic.

The Best Books on the French Revolution

The French Revolution by Ian Davidson

The French Revolution by Ian Davidson

For those looking for a good summary of what was the French Revolution, this book is for you. It is a good introductory book about the French Revolution, very clear and easy to read, although the amount of names cited in it might be confusing.

Although it doesn’t give you deep information on what is behind some of the events, it does give you a perspective of what the French Revolution was all about.

Ian Davidson is the former chief foreign affairs columnist of the Financial Times, and in this book, he covers all the aspects from political to social, of the Revolution, which gives a good understanding of the complexity of it.


Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama

This New York Times bestselling covers both, the years leading up to the French Revolution and the first period of it, giving a great insight into the people and events of the time, and helping to understand the Old Regime’s dynamics, offering a different view of the monarchy, and showing the violence adopted during the Revolution.

It is a very detailed book, giving lots of information about the lives of individuals related to the French Revolution, and also gives many details about the Revolution itself. It is a fun and interesting book, very easy to read.

It is more of a narrative than an analytic book, great if you already have a basic understanding of the Rench Revolution, but not a go-to if you are looking for a short book.


Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre by Jonathan Israel

Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre by Jonathan Israel

If you want to understand more about the ideas behind the French Revolution, this is the book for you.

Jonathan Israel specialized in the Enlightenment, the radical ideas that helped to shape the French Revolution, and in this book, he shows how those ideas influenced the people to revolt against the Old Regime, as much as the social, political, and economic situation of the time, as many scholars argue, and how the betrayal of those ideas led to the Terror.


Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser 

‘Let them eat cake’ who never heard this before? Marie Antoinette who was wrongly accused of saying it was the most hated queen of her time and one of the most loved ones of today, I dare to say. The polemic figure, who played a central role in the revolution, is the personification of popular anger and a good reason for their hate towards the monarchy.

Excentric was she was, Marie Antoinette, as the popular knowledge goes, was a person full of excess, who loved to throw parties and spend public money on fancy things, while the population starved.

Fraser gives us in this book, a brilliant and intimate narrative of the life of Frances’ most famous queen, learn the history of how the fourteen-year-old Austrian girl sent to France became such a significant figure in history.


Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr

Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr

Maximilien Robespierre was one of the leading figures in the French Revolution and indeed a very controversial one, but regardless of personal opinions, Robespierre was, without a doubt, a fascinating person. Being one of the greatest champions of the Revolution and also one of its victims. Some see him as just a cruel murderer, a tyrant of his time. Being accounted for countless executions during the Reign of Terror, Robespierre was, ironically, a strong opponent of the death penalty in the beginning.

If you wish to learn more about the life and death of Robespierre, and how he became such an important figure during the Revolution until he lost his head to the guillotine, this is the book for you.


The Giant of the French Revolution by David Lawday

The Giant of the French Revolution by David Lawday

Another famous figure related to the French Revolution, Jacques Danton was one of the driving forces behind the revolution. Danton was present when citizens stormed the Bastille marking the beginning of the revolution, he was also pointed as Minister of Justice during the Reign of Terror of Robespierre and was later executed in the guillotine by the same Robespierre.

Famous for his eloquent and vivid speech that could last hours, Danton’s death was a trigger for a second uprising to overthrow Robespierre and his twelve-man dictatorship.

In this biography, Lawday brings us back to a young and humble Danton and leads us through how he became one of the leaders of the French Revolution.


Twelve Who Ruled by R.R.Palmer

Twelve Who Ruled by R.R.Palmer

This book is about the twelve members of the Committee of Public Safety, leaders of the dictatorship-like period known as the Reign of Terror, responsible for the execution of thousands of people, making this, the bloodiest period of the French Revolution.

The twelve took control of France shortly after the execution of Louis XVI, with Robespierre being its most famous member.

Palmer follows the twelve during this infamous period to help us understand the struggles of the time and what led these humans to the bloodshed they committed.

Conclusion

Despite being a bloody period, studying the French Revolution is essential if you want to understand the geopolitics of the modern world, and understand the route humankind took from the first idea of Democracy, proposed in Ancient Greece, to the actual democracy we practice nowadays.

If you are fascinated by history like me, do take your time to check this list of places in Paris related to the French Revolution, to learn how some of the beautiful landmarks we see nowadays served as backstage to the revolutionary movement.

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