Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution

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Macmillan, Apr 17, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 408 pages

"Judicious, balanced, and admirably clear at every point. This is quite the calmest and least abusive history of the Revolution you will ever read."
—Hilary Mantel, London Review of Books

Since his execution by guillotine in July 1794, Maximilien Robespierre has been contested terrain for historians. Was he a bloodthirsty charlatan or the only true defender of revolutionary ideals? The first modern dictator or the earliest democrat? Was his extreme moralism a heroic virtue or a ruinous flaw?

Against the dramatic backdrop of the French Revolution, historian Ruth Scurr tracks Robespierre's evolution from provincial lawyer to devastatingly efficient revolutionary leader, righteous and paranoid in equal measure. She explores his reformist zeal, his role in the fall of the monarchy, his passionate attempts to design a modern republic, even his extraordinary effort to found a perfect religion. And she follows him into the Terror, as the former death- penalty opponent makes summary execution the order of the day, himself falling victim to the violence at the age of thirty-six.

Written with epic sweep, full of nuance and insight, Fatal Purity is a fascinating portrait of a man who identified with the Revolution to the point of madness, and in so doing changed the course of history.

 

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User Review  - vguy - LibraryThing

Excellent. shows the strength of biography for getting across complexities of history. R's life makes for a clear narrative and a sense of who's on which side in the swirling tide.We learn also that R ... Read full review

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User Review  - john257hopper - LibraryThing

A well written and fascinating account of the life and career of this most famous and infamous of French revolutionaries. Robespierre is a fascinating man of contrasts. For much of his life, certainly ... Read full review

Contents

Preface I
1
Child of Arras
17
The LawyerPoet Back Home
36
The Revolution Begins 17881789
59
Representing the Nation at Versailles
78
Reconstituting France 17891791
109
The Pact with Violence
257
Robespierres Red Summer
318
Coda
359
Bibliography
379
Acknowledgments
393
Copyright

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About the author (2007)

Born in 1971, Ruth Scurr studied at Oxford and Cambridge, where she currently teaches politics and history. A prominent literary critic, she has written for The New York Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement. Fatal Purity is her first book.

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