Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama *** (of 4)
OK, I didn’t finish the book. After more than 300 pages of fine print and exquisitely crafted sentences I perished of exhaustion before ever learning who won the French Revolution. Schama’s command of the subject matter is extraordinary and his ability to lecture at length is similarly impressive. To read Schama, rather than to watch him lecture (I strongly recommend watching his BBC series, The Power of Art) takes unbroken concentration and enough time to cover more than a thousand pages. I was surprised to discover that his book presupposes so much knowledge of the actors and their actions Schama’s goal, I believe, is not to describe what happened during the revolution so much as to explain why. His book is an intellectual history of the revolution, its impact on what Frenchmen thought of themselves, and the further democratization of western society. I wish I could have stuck with it, and maybe I’ll get back to it, but the commitment to stay with him even when I could not track all the players on the field nor focus on his extended commentary was more than I could manage.
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