Published by Princeton University Press, 2014.


The book is billed as an intellectual history of the French Revolution but it assumes that you know what the revolutionary ideas were and how they evolved.

This is a really a history of the people who had the ideas (the philosophes) and a history of those people who abused them together with sobering tale of all the people who got hurt along the way.

If you are interested in the numerous factions and sub-factions and who was in them at any point, or who was in the ascendant and who in decline at any point in the revolutionary story and why that may have been then you will profit from reading this. The description of the Terror and the fall of Robespierre is both compelling and deeply saddening.

For those interested in the background and contents of the Declaration of the Rights of Man 1789 there are helpful passages at pages 57-58 and 77-85.

I had not realised how significant was the role of E J Sieyès in the drafting of the Declaration, nor the stormy reception the draft received on the grounds of its ‘metaphysical’ content. Ironically, Sieyès had a hand in Napoleon’s appointment.

I am left with the abiding sense of thinkers who were ahead of their time; who failed to give their ideas sufficient grounding in reality, and who were driven to despair by the use made of their ideas.

This is a veritable tome-at 708 pages plus footnotes and not for dilettantes but is has an excellent ‘cast of main participants’ and a very good index. A book to dip into for answers to a particular question I would have thought.