Robert Aldrich reviews 'Liberty or Death: The French Revolution' by Peter McPhee

Robert Aldrich reviews 'Liberty or Death: The French Revolution' by Peter McPhee

Liberty or Death: The French Revolution

by Peter McPhee

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.

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Robert Aldrich

Robert Aldrich

Robert Aldrich is Professor of European History at the University of Sydney, author of Vestiges of the Colonial Empire in France: Monuments, Museums and Colonial Memories (2005), and editor of The Age of Empires (2007). His latest book, Gay Life Stories (2012), was reviewed by Brian McFarlane in the June 2012 issue of ABR.

 

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