Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Published by
Basic Books (2019-12-10)
Current material
Final Pages
Original language
Politics & government


The History of the French Revolution

by Popkin, Jeremy

Not since Simon Schama's Citizens (1988) has a trade book comprehensively chronicled the French Revolution. Popkin brings together a lifetime of study and synthesizes all the latest research - including extensive work on the role of women and people of color in the Revolution. Based on decades of scholarship, A New World Begins will stand as the definitive treatment of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution was the "big bang" out of which all the elements of modern politics and social conflicts were formed. Democracy, populism, liberalism, conservatism, socialism, nationalism, feminism, abolitionism, and "enlightened" imperialism are heirs to the upheaval that began in Paris in 1789. To some, the French Revolution might seem only a distant memory, but as esteemed historian Jeremy Popkin demonstrates, the principles of the French Revolution remain the only possible basis for a just society -- even if, after more than two hundred years, these ideals have not been realized and are still often contested.

The French Revolution is also perhaps the most dramatic episode in human history. Popkin takes us from the storming of the Bastille and the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789, and from the descent of the Reign of Terror (and the execution of Louis XIV) to the rise of Napoleon. His gripping narrative follows the French revolutionaries as they attempted to realize the principle that people "are born and remain free and equal in rights," and he shows how this revolutionary idea led both to incredible progress and murderous conflicts in the span of mere months. He paints vivid portraits of the (in)famous leaders of the Revolution, including Robespierre, Danton, and Mirabeau, as well as lesser-known figures, such as Jean-Marie Goujon, the idealistic Jacobin who told his beloved she would always be second in his mind to the Fatherland, and François Molin, the anti-revolutionary priest who became so accustomed to leading underground religious services that he trembled when he performed mass in public again for the first time. This masterful account is also the first to show how women and violence in France's overseas possessions helped determine the course of the Revolution.

Drawing on a career spent studying the Revolution and synthesizing the last thirty years of historical scholarship, Popkin gives us a history of the French Revolution for our time, when so many of the Revolution's legacies are facing renewed challenges across the world; and we follow the rise of Napoleon out of the ashes of the Reign of Terror.

Jeremy D. Popkin holds the William T. Bryan chair of history at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of many books, including You Are All Free and A Short History of the French Revolution. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Chinese (simpl.): Gingko ; Italy: Einaudi ; Spain: Galaxia Gutenberg

Quote: Basic Books

This is a book that has been needed for a long time: a lucid, engaging, authoritative, accurate, and up-to-date history of the French Revolution. Jeremy Popkin is one of the great living experts on the subject, and he has drawn on a half-century of study to produce this first-rate work. Particularly impressive is the way he integrates the history of the Haitian Revolution into that of the French Revolution. A New World Begins will appeal to experts, students, and general readers alike.

Quote: David A. Bell, professor of history, Princeton University and author

Based on nearly half a century of research and teaching, Jeremy Popkin's new study of the French Revolution brilliantly brings alive the complex goals and emotions of the men and women and people of color struggling to create a new world. It is especially effective in exploring what that struggle meant, both for the generation of Revolutionaries and for our own day. A New World Begins is an outstanding synthesis that is sure to stand as basic reading on the subject for many years to come.

Quote: Timothy Tackett, professor emeritus of history, UC Irvine and author

Jeremy Popkin, a professor of history at the University of Kentucky, offers a fresh and fair-minded account of the revolution overflowing with vivid narrative detail and clear exposition.

Review: Wall Street Journal

Popkin's expertise on revolutionary-era France is keenly demonstrated here - from prerevolutionary thought through the history of the country up to Louis XVI and his Hapsburg wife, Marie-Antoinette, and beyond, to the years of upheaval and the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Review: Booklist

Sweeping in coverage, A New World Begins offers a fresh and richly detailed account of French revolutionary politics. Jeremy Popkin is an outstanding scholar of the French and Haitian Revolutions, and his deep layers of expertise shine through the pages of this book. This thought-provoking account will push readers to reflect deeply on the contradictions and complexities of modern democracy.

Quote: Suzanne Desan, professor of history, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author

The author underscores how the French example might have 'foreshadowed totalitarian excesses more than social progress' and how liberty for some did not spell liberty for all, especially slaves and women. A fresh, welcome new interpretation of the French Revolution.

Review: Kirkus

Jeremy Popkin is one of the most eminent scholars working on the French Revolution, and his A New World Begins provides us with the best, fullest and most up-to-date history of the Revolutionary decade from 1789 through to the advent of Napoleon. Writing with an insight that distils a lifetime's study, Popkin is particularly alert to the range of experience of those who lived through the Revolutionary years. There is heart and compassion here as well as wit and intelligence: Popkin does not flinch from recounting the Revolution's more sombre legacies, but can still elicit in his readers a bitter-sweet sense of excitement about a moment in western history when, indeed, a new epoch in the history of humanity seemed to be blossoming.

Quote: Colin Jones, author of The Great Nation

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