Where my previous read on the French Revolution (the original one) was a somewhat conservative choice (Simon Schama) – this one (by Verso books) was squarely on the left wing radical side of things. And by a Frenchman as well. That means that a little more knowledge may be expected going in – references to historians like Michelet, Jaures and Lefevbre are scattered throughout. Actually that’s rather the point of the book – dredging up real quotations from the revolutionary press (Marat, Hebert) and speeches by the politicians (Robespierre in particular) to challenge the standard interpretations and narratives.
The copy and paste approach doesn’t make for the smoothest read, but it does make its point well – the chosen quotes making Robespierre and even Marat seen much less extreme than their reputations. However, the obvious lack of balance detracts from this. It’s difficult to get sucked into Hazan’s argument without being familiar with the arguments from the other side.
It also feels a shame (and not necessarily Hazan’s fault) that we don’t actually hear much from the “people” here, the closest we get is a bit of focus on the sans-culotte leadership. The english title of the book is definitely less accurate than the more mundane French title Une histoire de la Révolution française.
I did enjoy the book despite the flaws, but it isn’t the best of introductions to the period.