Welcome to This Week in Books, where we highlight books just released by small and independent presses. Books have always been a symbol for and means of spreading knowledge and wisdom, and they are an important part of our toolkit in fighting for social justice. If we’re going to move our national narrative away from one of hate and fear, we need books that display empathy, that help us understand different points of view, that show us we aren’t alone, that feed our spirits.
This week, we’ll look at a work of narrative history, The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny (Pegasus Books) by Ian Davidson, just released in the US last week.
You might have just read the word “history” and cringed—what could be more boring?—but reviews indicate this volume is anything but. One reviewer wrote:
Again and again [Davidson] shows us the hungry and disenchanted majority of the French population, numbly turning away from the scaffold and the ballot-box and willing the revolution to be over while their fanatical leaders, to whom the revolution had become a kind of alternative religion, plunged to further depths of tyranny, holding up, as a revolutionary imperative, government without democratic legitimacy. As Robespierre said, ‘the despotism of liberty’ was necessary to crush ‘the despotism of kings’.
And if, in light of the CIA’s recent conclusion that Moscow did indeed try to rig the US election in Trump’s favor, the phrase “government without democratic legitimacy” just sent a shiver running up your spin, you’re not alone. One could also just as easily replace the word “kings” with “liberals” and you might think you were reading a review of current events and not a history book. If ever a cliché were true, it’s the one about history repeating itself.
To avoid this fate, we must be better students of history. Davidson attempts a nonpartisan retelling of how the Revolution went from a reasoned attempt to make the country better and more equal to the tyranny of Robespierre and the “Terror.” According to the book’s description, “He reveals how it was an immensely complicated and multifaceted revolution, taking place in different places, at different times, and in different spheres.”
Pick up a copy of The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny from IndieBound or at your local independent bookseller.