Beginning with the event known as the Fall of the Bastille and officially ending with the death of Robespierre in the guillotine, the French Revolution actually extended until 1789 and influenced the political ideologies and ideals of the modern world.
The French Revolution was full of eccentric characters that helped to give a deep personality to the event, to mention a few, Marie Antoinette, Robespierre, and Napoleon.
For some, it may seem just like another uprising, but it was much more than that, and to understand this super important historical event, nothing better than reading these best books on the French Revolution.
Best Books on the French Revolution
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 introduction to this event. 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
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.
Originally published in the bicentennial of the Revolution, Citizens 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
Specialized in the Enlightenment, the radical ideas that helped to shape the French Revolution, Israel explains in this book 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.
This is a great book for those looking for understanding the ideas behind the people’s uprising in France.
The French Revolutionary Wars (Essential Histories) by G. Fremont-Barnes
Providing good text, illustrations, and quotations, the book covers the campaigns during the French Revolution and its main players. Pretty easy to read, the book focuses on the most important information and leave aside irrelevant one. It is a relatively short book and easy to read. Great if you want to have a good idea of the wars that happened in this period.
In this book, Fremont-Barnes gives an insight into the overall historical importance of the wars in the French Revolution, so it is important to note though that although it is a book focused on the campaigns, it lacks military specifics.
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, she played a central role in the revolution, is the personification of the 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
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 to the death penalty in the beginning.
If you wish to learn more about the life and death of Robespierre, how he became such an important figure during the Revolution until he literally lost his head to the guillotine, this is the book for you.
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 overthrown 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
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 lead these humans to the bloodshed they committed.