Liberty or Death: The French Revolution
Yale University Press (Footprint), $55.95 hb, 487 pp, 9780300189933
The French Revolution never ceases to fascinate. Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre, the storming of the Bastille and the 'Marseillaise', the Terror and its guillotine: such is the stuff of historical works, novels, films, and exhibitions. The Revolution remains with us today, and not only in the slogan 'liberty, equality and fraternity'. Subjects of the king became citizens of the nation in 1789, the possibility of universal suffrage was broached, and the notion of public opinion became a fundamental part of politics. Our nomenclature of 'left' and 'right' derives from where members of the revolutionary assembly sat in their chamber. The modern passport and the semaphore telegraph were developed at the time. The metric system is one of the longest-lasting and most omnipresent results of efforts to standardise weights and measures and, in a more general sense, to make the world a more logical place.