Liberty or Death: The French Revolution by Peter McPhee - review by William Doyle

William Doyle

Power to the People

Liberty or Death: The French Revolution

By

Yale University Press 468pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

Australian historians have a well-established reputation in French revolutionary studies, and nowadays Peter McPhee is indisputably their leader in the field. This is his second survey of the French Revolution. Since the publication of its much shorter predecessor fourteen years ago, he has edited a wide-ranging companion bringing together the insights of many leading authorities. He has also produced the best recent biography of Robespierre. The experience of doing both clearly underpins Liberty or Death, the freshest general account of the Revolution to appear in a generation. It is impressively documented, with abundant up-to-date endnotes and a full bibliography; and Robespierre and his home province of Artois are brought in at useful illustrative moments. Indeed, throughout the book no opportunity is missed to highlight events in provincial developments. They reflect McPhee’s main interest, which is the impact of the great upheaval on the lives of ordinary people.

Most general surveys of the French Revolution have prioritised events in Paris to the relative exclusion of the country at large. The capital was undeniably the Revolution’s centre, but McPhee thinks that the revolutionary process is best understood as a ‘negotiation and confrontation between governments in Paris and people across

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