The French Revolution by Stephen Clarke
The French Revolution by Stephen Clarke has the very appropriate subtitle: and What Went Wrong. This is the 3rd book I read by Clarke and I will start reading the 4th one in a couple of months or so. All his books are hilarious and this one did not disappoint at all.
I didn’t know much about the French Revolution before reading this book. At University I just started European History 1815-1914. At the time I’m writing this review, I’ve finished another book on the period and I had my seminar about the French Revolution, so I’m in a much better position to comment on the events of the 18th century.
I imagined, before reading about it, that there was a long battle between the tyrant king and the poor masses, before beheading the king and Marie-Antoinette. That couldn’t get further from the truth. The reality is filled with fake news, unnecessary violence perpetrated by the poor. The storm of Bastille, which is today France’s national day was a damp squib. There were only 7 people in Bastille! Also, at that time, at Versailles the Assembly was creating a constitution for a British-style constitutional monarchy.
It was also interesting to see the much talked-about Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité ideas were not exactly as we see them today. The Republic was founded in 1792 and a reign of terror started, in which the ones opposing would be killed, either by guillotine or drowned. Louis XVI was executed in 1793 and most of the killings happened after that, reaching an astonishing 300,000. Liberté… but people were imprisoned and executed without trail and the slaves in the colonies were still slaves, Egalité… but women were not allowed to have equal rights and some were guillotined for brining up the subject, and it leaves Fraternité… which sums up nicely the first two.
The numbers of people guillotined during the French Revolution make for an interesting reading too. In Paris, 381 were aristocrats and 325 clergy (including bishops), that was not a surprise, but, among others, over 1,500 were workers and, a staggering 105 were peasants. That was a shock. Outside Paris, out of 14,000 people guillotined, aristocrats and clergy combined were under 20%, the rest being workers, peasants, and bourgeois, the people who were supposed to be liberated from the tyranny.
I think it is a shame that the real history is not taught in schools. If we would all be aware how damaging fake news can be, maybe political leaders would not be able to use it, we might press on our politicians to harden the rules for news and social media platforms. It is a book about things that happened over 200 years ago, but these issues are still a part of our modern day lives. Also, it is written so nicely that it would be a shame not to read it.
The French Revolution by Stephen Clarke
Details about the picture: A homemade eclair filled with creme patissiere surely is one of the best props for this book.
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: Yes!!
Published by: Century, part of Penguin Random House
Year it was published: 2018
About the author: The way he describes himself on his website is fun, so this is a small extract:
“I grew up in Bournemouth, where I played bass in some of the worst rock bands in musical history before leaving town to study French and German at Oxford.
After university, I got a series of high-powered jobs – in the wine industry (grape picking), tertiary sector (washing up in a German hotel), and in international diplomacy (teaching English to bored French businessmen).
As soon as I heard about the possibility of a French 35-hour week, I moved to Paris and got a job as a journalist on an English-language magazine.
I also do my bit for the non-fiction side of Anglo-French relations. There’s Talk to the Snail, a little book that tries to describe French society according to ten “commandments”.”
Books by Stephen Clarke: 1000 Years of Annoying the French; Dirty Bertie; How the French Won Waterloo (or Think They Did); The French Revolution & What Went Wrong.
Website & Social Media Links: stephenclarkewriter