Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life

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Yale University Press, Mar 13, 2012 - Biography & Autobiography - 352 pages

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.


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ROBESPIERRE: A Revolutionary Life

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A meticulous but limited treatise on the life of one of France's most notorious revolutionaries.Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) was a young provincial lawyer who came to Paris as a representative ... Read full review

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A surprisingly readable and balanced account of the life and, to a limited extent, the times of Robespierre. You will have to look elsewhere for an understanding of the larger issues concerning the causes and evolution of "the Revolution" itself. I was surprised, for example, at the cursory references to Danton and Desmoulin, to the point that an uninformed reader might almost think the complex events that we group under the rubric of "the Revolution" were the work of one man. If one accepts and makes allowances for the necessarily narrow focus of the biography, which I think the author would readily admit, then by all means read this book. I couldn't put it down. 


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

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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.

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