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Top Ten Books on the French Revolution



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The French Revolution was complex; its beginnings dated back to the very essence and beginning of French society. Ultimately, many viewpoints exist about the Revolution and why it happened. To help students who are studying this complicated subject, the following books may be of use.

1. The Days of the French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert.
This astounding account and detailing of the French Revolution goes to the very heart of why the Revolution happened. Starting from the meeting of the Estates General to the coup d'etat, "The Days of the French Revolution" is a telling historical study that includes maps, drawings, pictures, a glossary, and a chronology of the most important events that took place (although every little event before, during, and after the French Revolution were important in their own right). This is one of the few historical studies that really captures the reader's attention.

2. The French Revolution, 1789-1799 by Peter McPhee.
McPhee's study is less detailed than Hibbert's, but it does detail some of the most eventful years. However, McPhee's book should only be taken as an overview of the real happenings of the French Revolution; unlike Hibbert's book, which is lengthy and very detailed, McPhee's is designed to slowly introduce the reader to the crux of the matter.

3. The Oxford History of the French Revolution by William Doyle.
This is perhaps one of the best books on the French Revolution by far. It is succinct, comprehensive, and detailed, which, unlike Hibbert's book, appears quite scholarly. The book moves from the causes of the Revolution (which includes decades of social history before 1789), the French Revolution itself, and the aftermath. This is definitely a must for those needing a detailed account of the French Revolution.

4. The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Bicentennial Reflections on the French Revolution) by Roger Chartier.
Chartier's book is a required read in order to understand the social underpinnings of the French Revolution. You won't think about the French Revolution in the same way.

5. A Concise History of the French Revolution by Sylvia Neel.
This book is quite similar to Doyle's, but a bit more condensed. This version is great for faster reading and acquirement of detailed events. Great companion book to a textbook.

6. The French Revolution: A Document Collection by Laura Mason and Tracey Rizzo.
As a college student, I highly recommend learning about an event through reading documents. It is excellent for discovering events through first-person accounts.

7. University of Chicago Readings in Western Civilization, Volume 7: The Old Regime and the French Revolution (Readings in Western Civilization) by Keith M. Baker, John W. Boyer, and Julius Kirshner.
This is perhaps one of the most excellent document-based studies I have read for any class. As a University of Chicago student, I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in the real goings-on of the French Revolution.

8. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (The Bedford Series in History and Culture) by Lynn Hunt.
You'll think twice about what you know about the French Revolution. It wasn't just the political tremor that changed France. It was a cultural, social, and civil war that shook the very foundations of a nation.

9. The Old Regime and the French Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville and Stuart Gilbert.
This book gives a nice overview of the French Revolution as told by de Tocqueville, who famously wrote "Democracy in America." It is refreshing to learn about the French Revolution through someone who knew much about French politics and politics in general.

10. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This is a novel, but it is a compelling one which is set in the beginnings of the French Revolution. A must-read for English students, this is also a great change from textbooks.

 

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