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Robespierre [electronic resource] : a revolutionary life /
Peter McPhee.
New Haven : Yale University Press, c2012.
xix, 299 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
9780300118117 (cloth : alk. paper)
More Details
New Haven : Yale University Press, c2012.
9780300118117 (cloth : alk. paper)
Licensed for access by U. of T. users.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2012-03-01:
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 dictators to justify rule by reference to a public will that only the leader could interpret? In this admirable biography, McPhee (professorial fellow, Univ. of Melbourne; Living the French Revolution, 1789-1799) dispassionately describes the steps by which Robespierre came to accept violence as a response to increasingly dire events. Robespierre's model for governing was always Rousseau's: government should promote virtue. His identification with the people sometimes seemed excessive-"I am the people myself"-but he tempered revolutionary ardor with pragmatism. Near the end, these instincts failed him. When he did not specify who might yet come to trial before revolutionary tribunals, he threatened too many people. The next day, he was arrested. The virtues of this biography are many: McPhee knows his sources, writes clearly, and, recognizing that his subject died in his 30s and left scant personal records, never attempts answers based on insufficient evidence. VERDICT Readers interested in the French Revolution will love this wise book about an important and enigmatic figure. Highly recommended.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 2012-12-01:
Many works examine only Robespierre's role as the revolutionary leader of 1793-94. In this tour de force, McPhee (Univ. of Melbourne, Australia) studies his early life, beginning in 1758, and the events that influenced his personality, including his childhood, living in Arras, and as a scholarship student at the Parisian College of Louis-le-Grand, learning the importance of civic responsibility and law. McPhee rejects the portrayal of Robespierre as a hypocrite and dictator or as perceived by his enemies as the genocide creator of the Terror. The author depicts Robespierre as "the people's lawyer" who opposed social inequality and prejudice and supported the rights of women, children, and property. He was the spokesperson of the peasants, the sansculottes, and popular sovereignty. As a Rousseauist and classicist, Robespierre advocated that "all men have equal rights," and that a democratic republican government based on virtue was the Spartan ideal. McPhee attributes Robespierre's demise to his ill health, which impacted his judgment and made him "vulnerable." The slanderous attacks personifying Robespierre as the pontiff of the Cult of the Supreme Being and equating him with the Terror (which, in reality, was "controlled by the National Convention") led to his downfall. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. C. A. Gliozzo Michigan State University
Review Quotes
"A fine piece of work. McPhee has a sure command of the period, has mastered the voluminous sources on Robespierre, and writes a clean, robust prose."David Bell, The New Republic
"A thorough and well-written account of Robespierre's life...a solid contribution to the scholarship of this key figure of the French revolution." Kirkus Reviews
"Readers. . . will love this wise book about an important and enigmatic figure." Library Journal
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, March 2012
PW Annex Reviews, March 2012
Kirkus Reviews, April 2012
Choice, December 2012
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Bowker Data Service Summary
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. This biography combines new research into Robespierre's dramatic life.
Main Description
For some historians and biographers, Maximilien Robespierre (175894) 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 179394. 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.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgementsp. xi
List of Abbreviationsp. xiii
Introduction: 'Clay in the hands of writers'p. xv
Map of Francep. xx
A 'serious, grown-up, hardworking' little boy: Arras 1758-69p. 1
'An extremely strong desire to succeed': Paris 1769-81p. 13
'Such a talented man': Arras 1781-84p. 27
'Bachelorhood seems to encourage rebelliousness': Arras 1784-89p. 41
"We are winning': Versailles 1789p. 62
'Daring to clean out the Augean stables': Paris 1789-91p. 78
'Numerous and implacable enemies': Arras 1791p. 98
'The Vengeance of the People': Paris 1791-92p. 112
'Did you want a Revolution without Revolution?': Paris 1792-93p. 133
'A complete regeneration': Paris, July-December 1793p. 158
'Men with changing tongues': Paris, January-June 1794p. 182
'The unhappiest man alive': Paris, July 1794p. 204
Epilogue: 'That modern Procrustes'p. 222
Chronologyp. 235
Notesp. 243
Bibliographyp. 276
Indexp. 292
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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