Robespierre was only 36 when he died, sent to the guillotine where he had sent thousands ahead of him. Only a few months before, this pale and fragile man, formal, anxious to the point of paranoia, steeled by deep-held principles, had held centre place in the new Festival of the Supreme Being, wearing his sky-blue coat and decreeing a new religion ...
Robespierre was only 36 when he died, sent to the guillotine where he had sent thousands ahead of him. Only a few months before, this pale and fragile man, formal, anxious to the point of paranoia, steeled by deep-held principles, had held centre place in the new Festival of the Supreme Being, wearing his sky-blue coat and decreeing a new religion for France. Robespierre and the Revolution were inseparable: a single inflexible tyrant. But what turned a shy young lawyer into the living embodiment of the Terror at its most violent? Admirers called him 'the great incorruptible'; critics dubbed him a 'monster', a 'bloodthirsty charlatan'; even his friends found him hard to understand. Ruth Scurr sheds a dazzling new light on this puzzle, tracing Robespierre's life from a troubled childhood in provincial Arras to the passionate idealist, fighting for the rights of the people, and sweeping on to the implacable leader prepared to sign the death warrant for his closest friends. No backdrop can match the French revolution: it burns with human interest. As Scurr says, 'More than haunting, it obsesses, because it will not lie down and die'. Her brilliant, probing narrative brings the Revolution and its chilling hero to fiery life once again, helping us to understand how ideals and fanaticism can so often go hand in hand, as they still do today.
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I'm a general reader and cannot comment on the book's positioning of Robespierre in the French Revolution, but I can say that Scurr has produced a captivating read. The tale of R's political rise and moral fall from idealistic provincial lawyer to rule-by-Terror is quite a page turner.
Publishers Weekly, 2006-03-06 The short, violent life of Maximilien Robespierre was a mass of contradictions crowned with a supreme irony: this architect of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror would in July 1794 be executed by the same guillotine to which he had consigned so many others. Cambridge University historian Scurr says she has tried to write a biography that expresses "neither partisan adulation nor exaggerated animosity," but even she must conclude that with the Terror, he "kept moving through that gory river, because he believed it necessary for saving the Revolution. He can be accused of insanity and inhumanity but certainly not of insincerity." Robespierre can also be accused of being a revolutionary fanatic who hated atheists, and "became the living embodiment of the Revolution at its most feral"; a dedicated upholder of republican virtues whose hands were smothered in blood; a fierce opponent of the death penalty who helped send thousands to their deaths; and a democratic tribune of the people who wore a sky-blue coat and embroidered waistcoats so aristocratic they wouldn't have been out of place at the court of the Sun King. Scurr's first book scores highly in unraveling not only her subject's complexities but those of his era. 2 maps. (Apr. 29) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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