Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life (Google eBook)

Front Cover
Yale University Press, Mar 13, 2012 - Biography & Autobiography - 352 pages
3 Reviews

For some historians and biographers, Maximilien Robespierre (1758-94) was a great revolutionary martyr who succeeded in leading the French Republic to safety in the face of overwhelming military odds. For many others, he was the first modern dictator, a fanatic who instigated the murderous Reign of Terror in 1793-94. This masterful biography combines new research into Robespierre's dramatic life with a deep understanding of society and the politics of the French Revolution to arrive at a fresh understanding of the man, his passions, and his tragic shortcomings.

Peter McPhee gives special attention to Robespierre's formative years and the development of an iron will in a frail boy conceived outside wedlock and on the margins of polite provincial society. Exploring how these experiences formed the young lawyer who arrived in Versailles in 1789, the author discovers not the cold, obsessive Robespierre of legend, but a man of passion with close but platonic friendships with women. Soon immersed in revolutionary conflict, he suffered increasingly lengthy periods of nervous collapse correlating with moments of political crisis, yet Robespierre was tragically unable to step away from the crushing burdens of leadership. Did his ruthless, uncompromising exercise of power reflect a descent into madness in his final year of life? McPhee reevaluates the ideology and reality of "the Terror," what Robespierre intended, and whether it represented an abandonment or a reversal of his early liberalism and sense of justice.


What people are saying - Write a review

Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life

User Review  - David Keymer - Book Verdict

As head of the French Revolution's Committee of Public Safety, did Maximilien Robespierre (1758–94) save the republic with draconian measures or was he merely the first in a long line of modern ... Read full review

Review: Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life

User Review  - Alexandra - Goodreads

It's a running joke in my Revolutions class that I have a little history-crush on Peter McPhee - one that I do all I can to play up, in all honesty. Robespierre has not, however, been my particular ... Read full review


Arras 175869
Paris 176981
Arras 178184
Versailles 1789
Paris 178991
Arras 1791
Paris 179192
Paris julyDecemb er 1793
Paris july 1794

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2012)

Peter McPhee is a professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne, where he was the university's first provost. He has published widely on the history of modern France, including most recently Living the French Revolution, 1789-1799. He lives in Abbottsford, Australia.

Bibliographic information