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The Reign of Terror continues to fascinate scholars as one of the bloodiest periods in French history, when the Committee of Public Safety strove to defend the first Republic from its many enemies, creating a climate of fear and suspicion in revolutionary France. R. R. Palmer's fascinating narrative follows the Committee's deputies individually and collectively, recounting The Reign of Terror continues to fascinate scholars as one of the bloodiest periods in French history, when the Committee of Public Safety strove to defend the first Republic from its many enemies, creating a climate of fear and suspicion in revolutionary France. R. R. Palmer's fascinating narrative follows the Committee's deputies individually and collectively, recounting and assessing their tumultuous struggles in Paris and their repressive missions in the provinces. A foreword by Isser Woloch explains why this book remains an enduring classic in French revolutionary studies. -- "New York Times"


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The Reign of Terror continues to fascinate scholars as one of the bloodiest periods in French history, when the Committee of Public Safety strove to defend the first Republic from its many enemies, creating a climate of fear and suspicion in revolutionary France. R. R. Palmer's fascinating narrative follows the Committee's deputies individually and collectively, recounting The Reign of Terror continues to fascinate scholars as one of the bloodiest periods in French history, when the Committee of Public Safety strove to defend the first Republic from its many enemies, creating a climate of fear and suspicion in revolutionary France. R. R. Palmer's fascinating narrative follows the Committee's deputies individually and collectively, recounting and assessing their tumultuous struggles in Paris and their repressive missions in the provinces. A foreword by Isser Woloch explains why this book remains an enduring classic in French revolutionary studies. -- "New York Times"

30 review for Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manray9

    R. R. Palmer's Twelve Who Ruled is a noteworthy example of history as it should be -- thorough, insightful, and presented in precise and elegant prose. It's a strong Four Stars in my library. R. R. Palmer's Twelve Who Ruled is a noteworthy example of history as it should be -- thorough, insightful, and presented in precise and elegant prose. It's a strong Four Stars in my library.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Twelve Who Ruled, which details the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, might be the most terrifying book I've ever read. R. R. Palmer has constructed a vivid narrative of what happens when extreme, fanatical people are driven to atrocity in the name of idealism. The atrocities commited by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety are horrendous, but the speed and ease with which French society crumbled into deadly despotism--its utter plausability--is truly scarier than an horror Twelve Who Ruled, which details the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, might be the most terrifying book I've ever read. R. R. Palmer has constructed a vivid narrative of what happens when extreme, fanatical people are driven to atrocity in the name of idealism. The atrocities commited by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety are horrendous, but the speed and ease with which French society crumbled into deadly despotism--its utter plausability--is truly scarier than an horror film I've ever seen. Palmer essentially tells a straight narrative, following the exploits of Robespierre and the other members of the Committe of Public Safety, which ruled France with a brutally harsh dictatorship. Most of these members at various times serves as "Representatives on Mission," traveling to various French provinces and giving trials, judgments and in many cases, executions. These travels are likened to Roman Proconsuls, who were responsible for Roman provinces. The Roman connection is made throughout the book, as Palmer recounts how many Frenchmen took Roman names, viewing the Roman republic as a model society in many ways. Palmer tries to present the Committee members in as balanced a light as possible. He continually points out their motivation was to make France--and the world--better. These men had an idealistic view of "the people" and of "the republic." These were ideals that were not necessarily connected to any direct reality. Their concept of the will of the people was not based on an actual election, or actual public opinion, but became almost a religious concept of what was best for the people in the minds of the committee members. Their view of the republic was similar -- an idealistic concept that existed in their minds, quite separate from actual reality. They viewed it as their role to help guide France toward this idealized conception of a nation and a unified people. These views were taken to such an extreme that dissenting individuals who disagreed with the committee were seen as not of The People, and often needed to be removed from society (by the scalpel of the guillotine) to protect it as it emerged from its embryonic state. The idealistic notions were based largely on Russau's Social Contract, which detailed a utopian society and described the sacrifices deemed necessary to create and protect such a society. These concepts became doctrine--almost a religion in themselves. Indeed, Palmer continually refers to the revolution using religious terminology to drive the point home. He also spends a good deal of time explaining the Committee's attitudes toward religion, how some members of the Committee wanted to exterminate religion in all it's forms, but others, such as Robespierre, wanted to temper this view. Robespierre eventually went as far as to create a new religion, the "Cult of the Supreme Being," in a failed attempt to unify the people around an all-inclusive religion that would help reinforce morality and loyalty to the state. The most glaring weakness in the book is the lack of footnotes indicating sources. While Palmer includes a note on sources, indicating many primary, archival sources he used to construct his narrative, he does not indicate these in the text itself. This however is a very minor flaw in an otherwise impressive work. His prose is easy to read and very engaging, making this an ideal book for historians and the general public to enjoy. Overally, Pamer here presents perhaps the greatest narrative of the Reign of Terror, and possibly the most balanced viewpoint. In no way does he attempt to excuse the horrors committed, but neither does he paint these men as vicious monsters. By examining the evidence, Palmer presents these extraordinary men as caught up in passionate belief and uncompromising idealism, taken to a dangerous extreme. Palmer makes it easy to see why this period is referred to as "the Great Terror." Few eras in history have been as appropriately named.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of The Terror in the French Revolution [1941] - ★★★★1/2 This book may be dated, but it did not lose any of its power from the time it was first published in 1941, and was re-issued many times (the last edition dates to 2013). In this book, R. R. Palmer looks at one particular time period in the history of France, and its Revolution - the year 1793-1974. But, what a year that was! Chaotic, unbelievable, bordering fantastical. After the death of Louis XVI, twelve people ( Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of The Terror in the French Revolution [1941] - ★★★★1/2 This book may be dated, but it did not lose any of its power from the time it was first published in 1941, and was re-issued many times (the last edition dates to 2013). In this book, R. R. Palmer looks at one particular time period in the history of France, and its Revolution - the year 1793-1974. But, what a year that was! Chaotic, unbelievable, bordering fantastical. After the death of Louis XVI, twelve people (virtually strangers to each other) started to govern the country and their slide into dictatorship gave the name to the year of their rule - The Year of the Terror. The year's main symbol - the guillotine, operated alongside democratic ideas put in speeches and on paper. France has not seen anything like that before or since. Palmer's engaging, illuminating account traces the months leading to the Year of the Terror, then focuses on the twelve men in charge of the country. The narrative further details the twelve men's town and country policies, laws and actions, as they purported to stand for liberty, democracy, unity, justice and peace, but actually, became the embodiment of the opposite. Foreign and civil wars, rebellions within and outside the country, as well as economic disasters, growing paranoia and the inability to maintain the central rule, are just some of the challenges that faced the twelve men after they were left in change of the country under the innocuous name "The Committee of Public Safety". We start the account with the fifth summer of the Revolution, when the king's death has already caused divisions among the people of the country; when enemies from abroad have already grown stronger; and when economic insecurity has accelerated - "Anarchy within, invasion without. A country cracking from outside pressure, disintegrating from internal strain. Revolution at its height. War. Inflation. Hunger. Fear. Hate. Sabotage. Fantastic Hopes. Boundless idealism. And the horrible knowledge, for the men in power, that if they failed they would die as criminals, murderers of the king..." [Palmer, 1941/89: 5]. The members of the so-called Forth Committee were the following twelve men (nearly all from the Mountain political group): (1) Maximilien Robespierre, (2) Lazare Carnot, (3) Bertrand Barere, (4) Georges Couthon, (5) Andre Saint-Andre, (6) Jean-Marie D'Herbois, (7) Jean-Nicholas Billaud-Varenne, (8) Louis-Antoine Saint-Just, (9) Robert Lindet, (10) Prieur of the Cote-d'Or, (11) Marie-Jean Herault de Sechelles, and (12) Prieur of the Marne. The pressure on them must have been immense, with one contributing factor being that "there was not in France in 1973 a true majority in favour of anything, except to drive out the foreigners, and no majority to agree on precisely how that could be done" [Palmer, 1941/89: 42]. The great thing about Palmer's book is that it describes the events that took place after the death of the king in a very engaging manner. The author describes scenes and includes speeches which must have taken place at that time, enabling us to step into the then chaotic and complex world of politics and to imagine what it must have felt like to walk the streets of Paris at that time or hear one of the twelve leading men give their speeches to an assembly of people. Our intrigue will be justified: the secrecy of the Committee's meetings, its eccentric, intellectual and privileged members (some privately in dispute with each other, growing distrustful of each other), and the ardent idealism that reigned in the hearts of some of them - everything was at odds with the real, "on the ground" situation in the country. The setting up of the Revolutionary Army, the emergence of different fractions and the extraordinary powers that were conferred on the Committee's individual members only made the situation worse. We get to know about this and about much more as Palmer also takes us to the far-off concerns of France and we witness the situations in Puy-de-Dome, Alsace, Lyon (its doom) and in Brittany. The on and off efforts to "dechristianise" the French population by the Committee, as well as its effort to abolish the Christian calendar and make their own, are some of the eccentric actions that demonstrate the audacity of the ruling twelve to try to erase the past of the country and begin anew. Perhaps it is right to think that Palmer is a bit too sympathetic to the men he describes, and his account could have included more concrete examples. However, the book can still be considered one of the most informative out there on this period in the French history. In the book, we focus our attention on the men in question, as well as on other emerging leading figures as the events rush forward, seemingly with the speed of light, in Palmer's story. Palmer also makes sure that his account in seen in a broader context of other elements that were ongoing at the same time in the Republic, and finally illuminates the reasons that precipitated the Committee's downfall.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    It's been a while since I've read a book about the French Revolution, an obsession of mine since the age of 15 that remains undimmed. 'Twelve Who Ruled' has been on my to-read list for seven and a half years, as it took me a while to get hold of a copy. It was first published in 1941 and I read a 1971 edition that was apparently purchased by Leicester Polytechnic University, now De Montfort, in 1973. Palmer examines the year of the Terror, 1793-4, via analysis of the activities of the twelve man It's been a while since I've read a book about the French Revolution, an obsession of mine since the age of 15 that remains undimmed. 'Twelve Who Ruled' has been on my to-read list for seven and a half years, as it took me a while to get hold of a copy. It was first published in 1941 and I read a 1971 edition that was apparently purchased by Leicester Polytechnic University, now De Montfort, in 1973. Palmer examines the year of the Terror, 1793-4, via analysis of the activities of the twelve man Committee of Public Safety. While their actions in Paris were already well known to me, I found the chapters following committee members as representatives on mission more novel. The massacres at Lyons are well-covered by other histories of the period, but the missions to Alscace and Brittany are not usually mentioned. The war at sea is discussed as well as the war on land and I was reminded that in 1793 England planned to invade France and France to invade England. Neither actually did. Palmer also doesn't dwell exclusively or even predominantly on Robespierre. Much as he fascinates me, I have a whole biography of him on the shelf if required. It's refreshing to find comparisons of the political writings and activities of the different committee members, as well as their various fates during the Empire and Restoration. Robespierre's total ascendance over the Committee is essentially a historical convenience: Terrorists of the Year Two identified the Terror with one man, that they might themselves, by appearing peaceable and humane, win the confidence of the moderates. Barère revealed what was going on, writing in self-defense when he himself was accused: 'Is his grave not wide enough for us to empty into it all our hatreds?' This was precisely what happened. The living sought a new harmony by agreeing to denounce the dead. Ending the Terror: The French Revolution After Robespierre by Bronisław Baczko is a great examination of how this happened in the period immediately after Thermidor. Palmer's writing style is clear and highly readable, once I became used to him calling the Montagnards 'Mountaineers'. Perhaps this was normal in American scholarship at the time. He reflects upon the personalities and thoughts of the committee members and others, while acknowledging when he indulges in speculation. Who would not be tempted to? I must also admit that the occasional generalisation in a history book can be acceptable when I agree with it. Palmer's attitude towards the French Revolution is quite akin to my own: guardedly admiring, critical of its many failings yet inspired by its philosophies. Long before In Defence of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution was published in 2012, Palmer here defends the Terror - but only up to a point. He is critical, indeed dismissive, both of scholars who absolve Robespierre of all wrong-doing and those who treat the Terror as an exercise in totally pointless blood-letting. There is also greater emphasis on economic policy here than I've generally found, as the revolutionaries made so many grand speeches extolling principles that it is easy to overlook their more mundane regulatory decisions. The economy of the Terror is nonetheless interesting and important. I had not previously realised that a fleet of ships bringing wheat from America more or less rescued France from famine in 1794. It's also striking how difficult it was to co-ordinate fair distribution of food across the country while laws governing maximum prices were in effect. 'Twelve Who Ruled' is undoubtedly an appealing work of history. However I also greatly appreciated it from the perspective of historiography. Palmer published it in 1941 and refers in the text to the events of 1940, specifically the capitulation of France. The preoccupations of the time he was writing are prominent throughout: war economics, nationalism, and the stability of dictatorships. This in no way detracted from his analysis, indeed I enjoyed it. During the Terror, France was at war on almost all fronts and Palmer sees in its policies the seeds of later war economies. For example, Parisian workers were employed by the government to manufacture muskets, whether they liked it or not. By Thermidor, they were producing about five hundred a day. Given that the Industrial Revolution had not yet reached France, that is amazing. As Palmer puts it, 'In the summer of 1794 the nationally owned workshops of Paris were probably the greatest arsenal of small arms in the world'. This level of and justification for economic intervention was new, although the government did not intend such nationalisation of manufacture to last beyond the war. However, the political philosophy of the Terror came to depend upon the continuation of the war, which created paradoxes and fragilities that contributed to Thermidor. Palmer hints at the totalitarian regime of his time that took war economics to its greatest extreme: the Nazis. I didn't realise the extent of this until I read The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze, which I recommend. Similarly, Palmer sees the beginning of modern nationalism in laws enacted during the Terror that treated foreigners in general and the English in particular as inherently suspect. Trade with England was also outlawed. Given that France and England were at war, this seems less surprising today, yet for the time it was quite new. Chapter ten recounts in some detail a revealing Convention debate about whether the government was 'nationalising' the war. St Just gave a speech defending the government from this charge by claiming that France quarreled only with England's government, aristocracy, and businessmen: It is clear that the Committee of Public Safety was nationalising the war without intending to do so. What the members of the Committee believed was that there was no conflict between free nations; but a free nation was one which overthrew its king and its nobles, and which also, according to the somewhat temporary doctrine of 1793, attacked its rich business class. A nation which persisted in not imitating France was not free, and so not exactly a nation; the war therefore, though the Committee by its own admission consulted only the interests of France, was not a national war. Thirdly, the examination of whether Robespierre was a dictator (not by most definitions) and whether the Committee was an oligarchy (of sorts, albeit unstable) is shadowed by the dictatorships of 1940. Palmer mentions a hope that totalitarian regimes of the 20th century prove as brief and unstable as the technically undemocratic period of the Terror. I say technically undemocratic as the Committee was continually responding to pressures from the democratically elected Convention (although it purged Convention members), from the Jacobin and other clubs (although these were also purged), from the popular press (although this was selectively suppressed), and the public (although under the Law of Suspects anyone could be arrested). Dissent persisted nonetheless and the Committee did not take formal steps to make themselves dictators or emperors. Their position was inherently temporary and there were both formal and informal mechanisms for their removal, which operated during Thermidor. Crucially, as Palmer notes, the twelve did not foster anything like a cult of personality. That would have been antithetical to their professed philosophy of the sovereign people, un et indivisible. As with previous reading that deals with this period in any depth, this book has much to say about how difficult interpeting this literally makes government in practise. Once I got back into the world of the French Revolution after a couple of chapters, I found 'Twelve Who Ruled' involved, rewarding, and thought-provoking. It invited reflection on the twentieth century as well the eighteenth.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    Among the many gaping holes in American historical knowledge is any grasp of the French Revolution (and that includes my own knowledge). As an abstract matter, this is unfortunate, but nothing notable, given that the historical knowledge of modern Americans is essentially one large gap. As a concrete matter, though, it is a real problem, because in our own troubled times, the French Revolution offers critical, universal lessons, which we forget to our peril. Nowhere is this more true than with r Among the many gaping holes in American historical knowledge is any grasp of the French Revolution (and that includes my own knowledge). As an abstract matter, this is unfortunate, but nothing notable, given that the historical knowledge of modern Americans is essentially one large gap. As a concrete matter, though, it is a real problem, because in our own troubled times, the French Revolution offers critical, universal lessons, which we forget to our peril. Nowhere is this more true than with respect to the Terror, the rule of the twelve-man Committee of Public Safety, from 1793-94, the subject of this classic 1941 work. The frame of this book is as political biography of the members of the Committee, all of whom were part of the loose grouping commonly referred to as Jacobins. The Committee was, for this one year, a dictatorial body that drew its power from the National Convention, a pseudo-parliamentary body claiming to represent the interests and will of Frenchmen. The Convention created the Committee in July of 1793, in response to a wave of existential threats, ranging from foreign invasion to internal counter-revolution to economic turmoil. During the following year, the Committee ruled through two basic methods: issuing decrees, which theoretically could be overridden by the Convention but never were, and by sending some of its members on assignment, “representatives-on-mission,” to critical areas around the country, with plenipotentiary power of life and death. At the same time, the Committee’s members involved themselves in, and led, the descending spiral of internal purges and violence against perceived ideological enemies who were themselves part of the Revolution, a process which ended in the Committee’s own destruction and the execution of its most prominent members. The task of the author, R. R. Palmer, was complicated by the Committee having left essentially no record of its own internal discussions. All that exists are a few anecdotes and recollections of dubious accuracy set forth in the autobiographies of some of the Committee’s survivors. Thus, Palmer’s focus is on what the individual members of the Committee actually did, according to contemporary reports and letters, and on the orders and decrees they signed and issued. This is probably more interesting than a record of internal debates would have been, and it makes Palmer’s book more compelling as a result. However they made their decisions, the Committee’s executive actions were largely a success in pushing back threats to the Revolution (and, as Palmer notes, many of their actions presaged the modern world, such as the “Levy in Mass,” conscripting the entire population to participate in declared national goals). Foreign invaders were beaten back (although as Palmer makes clear, contrary to French myth, it was not the élan of revolutionary armies or even superior leadership, though the latter was true, but that the Allies were opposed to each other as much as to the French). Internal enemies, equally poorly led and worse organized, were brutally suppressed. (The counter-revolutionaries who are most often remembered today are those in the Vendée, royalist and Catholic. But Palmer makes clear that of greater concern to the Committee were the “federalists,” centered around Lyon and Marseilles, who strongly supported the Revolution but opposed the Jacobins and those even farther left, the so-called Hébertists.) The economic situation was stabilized, both in terms of food supply and in terms of ability to manufacture essential goods for the state, especially munitions. So the knock on the Committee is not that its members failed; for a committee, especially, they were remarkably effective, if blessed in their enemies. It was their vicious treatment of defeated internal enemies, and most of all, of former allies now treated as enemies, that earned them the deserved reputation of bloodthirstiness. The Committee’s bloodthirstiness followed an exponentially rising arc. Just prior to the Committee’s formation, the “moderate” Girondists had been completely purged from the Convention, by the simple expedient of arrest and execution. This began the pattern of subsequent purges, where as factions developed after each cleansing, their opponents would attempt to tar them with the brush of those who had been purged earlier, and so distinguishing oneself from those killed earlier became essential to survival. Purge followed purge. Each one was made easier by law, culminating in the “Law of 22 Prairial” (the irritating French Revolutionary calendar makes following dates hard; that’s June 10, 1794) which allowed anyone to be summarily tried for sedition on the vaguest of charges, without any lawyers or defense being allowed and the only possible verdict death or innocence. By this point everyone active in politics not in the Committee’s camp figured it was only a matter of time before the guillotine would come for him (or her—the Committee went in heavily for executing women, as well as men, for political opposition). Thus, the purges culminated in the “Thermidorean Reaction” of July, 1794, in which a combination of those members of the Convention more moderate and more radical than the Committee, both fearing they would be the next to go, executed three members of the Committee and then dismantled it entirely. (Those three were Maximilien Robespierre and his two closest allies, Antoine Saint-Just and Georges Couthon; the exact interaction of Robespierre and the other members of the Committee is still hotly debated, but he was clearly the leader at that point.) The Committee’s actions were, and were meant to be, “revolutionary,” by which they meant outside the rule of law, “exceptional and expeditious,” not governed by any constitution or charter other than the grant of power itself to the Committee. Their actions “rested on higher law.” As Saint-Just, the youngest and most icily nasty of the political fanatics who composed the Committee, put it: “Since the French people has manifested its will, everything opposed to it is outside the sovereign. Whatever is outside the sovereign is an enemy.” Or, in an even more modern-sounding phrasing, “All is permitted to those who act in the Revolutionary direction.” In essence, the Committee’s core belief was Rousseau’s doctrine of the general will, animated to malevolent life. All the Revolutionaries were obsessed with the "Social Contract," so this is no surprise. The results were predictable, at least from our vantage point. It was not just in mass killing that the rule of law was destroyed, it was also in many other actions, such as ending elections to the Convention, because, according to the Committee, “When the revolutionary machine is still rolling, you injure the people in entrusting it with the election of public functionaries, for you expose it to the naming of men who will betray it.” Very convenient. My favorite passage to illustrate the corruption of language that characterized the Committee is Palmer’s summary of a speech by Saint-Just on March 13, given as the internal purges gathered steam. “Saint-Just began by discussing the right of revolution, affirmed in the Declaration of Rights and recently invoked by the Cordeliers [a purged group]. Insurrection, he said, is of course a right, a guarantee for the people; but government also has its guarantee, the people’s justice and virtue. Whoever corrupts this virtue makes government impossible, and public virtue is corrupted when confidence in the government is lost. The present sovereign is not a tyrant; it is the people. Whoever opposes the present order is therefore evil, and insurrection, once a useful recourse, is now counter-revolution. Opposition does exist—furtive, clandestine—because no one ever opposes an established order openly. Opposition always disguises itself; subversive elements always pretend to be loyal.” This is a perfect example of James Burnham’s definition of ideology, “a more or less systematic and self-contained set of ideas supposedly dealing with the nature of reality . . . and calling for a commitment independent of specific experience or events. . . . . An ideologue—one who thinks ideologically—can’t lose. He can’t lose because his answer, his interpretation and his attitude have been determined in advance of the particular evidence or observation.” There is nothing more dangerous than a man driven by ideology, and there is no dealing with people who can justify themselves in this way. Not only have they departed from any relationship with reality, but the result, empirically, is always a trail of corpses, the creation of which can be ended only one way. I promised lessons, so what’s the lesson here? It should be obvious—all the behavior I’ve outlined in the past several paragraphs, if you took out the specific of names and dates, could equally well characterize any regime of the Left in power for the past two-and-a-half centuries. Those behaviors did not spring from nothing—the Terror, and the Gulag, and Year Zero, are real fruits of the Enlightenment, whatever Steven Pinker may say. While it is possible, perhaps, for a time, for Enlightenment ideas to not lead to the Terror, such as in the American Revolution, and perhaps not every key Enlightenment idea necessarily leads to terror, in both cases that’s the exception, rather than the rule (and probably impossible outside a context based on English traditions, as opposed to those of Rosseau). So what are those Enlightenment ideas? The Twelve were religious believers, adherents of the first of the secular, ideological religions, and the same core religious beliefs have characterized the Left since and as a result of the Enlightenment. The religion of the Twelve was, and the religion of any ideologue of the Left is, the central Enlightenment idea that it is possible to create a heaven on earth, “the dawn of universal felicity,” through reason. In this ideology, heaven is reachable through ever-more liberty and emancipation compelled by the ever-heavier hand of the state. And not only is it reachable, but it is the natural end of humans, who are inherently good and perfectible through proper training and education. Who could disagree with such a goal? Only evil men, clearly. But the problem is, to the believers, in order to attain such a utopia, any cost is bearable, and any opposition doubly evil, since it attempts to deny happiness to those alive today and also to all the generations yet unborn. A believer must therefore conclude that if the promised utopia fails to arrive, it is because evil men oppose it for their own base reasons. If that is true, certainly such evil men deserve to die, a small cost that must be paid so that many others may reach heaven, even if most of those paying the price are actually innocent of any opposition. Thus, the end result of the Left being in total power is always going to be the same as that in 1794 (even if may not always be as compressed in time or as dramatic as the Terror). Or, put another way, any person of the Left has to endorse the Terror or reject the essential premises of the Left, because the Terror was, and such terror is, a necessary consequence of the Left being in power. The only alternative, and the only solution, is to reject much or all of the Enlightenment itself, something that is fortunately coming back into fashion. Palmer himself basically endorses the Terror. Compared to most scholarship about the Terror, though, he’s relatively even-handed. And he sees the Twelve’s motives clearly; he notes, in the context of the suppression of Lyons, featuring such activities as the daily killing of hundreds by grouping them together, harrowing them with grapeshot and then bayoneting the survivors, “the combination of blood lust with the jargon of revolutionary idealism. . . . It is necessary to realize that these men inflicted death with a holy glee.” At root, though, he thinks that the behavior of the Committee is excused by their desire to make the world a better place. But that is not an excuse for their monstrous behavior, it is the reason—it is what made them do what they did. There is a complete and universal parallel between the behavior described in this book and the subsequent behavior of the global Left in power, both in Europe and in Asia during the twentieth century. Palmer couldn’t see that, really, at the time he wrote. But his overriding goal of excusing the Terror can be seen by examining his approach to various matters that are part of his history. First, while he couldn’t see the full sweep of the twentieth century, not once does Palmer criticize the Left, Marxism or Communism, or analogize later leftist thought and actions to the Revolution, even in the slightest way. The closest he comes is one single reference to the show trial of Georges Danton, calling it “an outrage to civilized procedure comparable only to certain political trials of our own time.” This is not an overt attempt to excuse the Terror, but it shows where Palmer’s heart is, since even in 1941 the parallels were obvious. And when he re-issued the book in 1989, Palmer was extremely proud that he made no substantive changes to the text, as he notes in his “Preface to the Bicentennial Edition,” completing his whitewash of the Terror as it relates to the Left. Second, Palmer explicitly declines to talk about the “Grand Terror,” that is, the culmination of and most violent period of the Terror. “We shall not dwell much on [that is, we shall not dwell at all on] the Grand Terror, which in fact was by no means entirely the work of the Committee of Public Safety. The Hundred Days before Thermidor were not primarily a time of destruction. They were a time of creation, of abortive and perhaps visionary creation, nipped by the fatal blight of the Revolution, the inability of the Revolutionists to work together. Had the Jacobins been a revolutionary party of the modern kind, drilled to a mechanical obedience, the whole French Revolution would have been different.” The dishonesty and naiveté of this is breathtaking. So, when Palmer suggests that “We cannot understand [the Revolution’s] history or [European] memories without dwelling on events that many modern historians pass over as sensational,” we realize that he, just as much as all the others, is “passing over” events that might whip up sentiment against the Revolution. Historians, including Palmer, pass over these events, not because they are “sensational,” but because their existence is corrosive to their own most fondly held political beliefs, which align with those of the Committee. They are only too happy to endlessly discuss, and use as a bludgeon, “sensational” events if they relate to medieval times, or religion, or any modern Right regime. It is the bad behavior of the Left that they always screen with a thick curtain, and not by accident or because they are delicate. So, Palmer notes that Jean-Baptiste Carrier, who ordered the murder of thousands of men, women and children after their defeat in the Vendée by drowning them in barges sunk in the Loire, is “condemned as a monster by reactionary and humanitarian writers,” but for others, presumably by all historians not characterized with epithets, “is subject to attempts at rehabilitation” (although Palmer thinks those are “on the whole not very successful”; whether that chagrins him or not is unclear). Palmer also notes that the Terror would have been infinitely more bloody if it were not the case that the Committee “habitually used an exaggerated manner of speaking; but they were, in reality, for the most part, still checked by humane and Christian scruples.” He does not note the contradiction, or rather, the now-obvious conclusion, that combining “a revolutionary party of the modern kind,” something he endorses as making the Revolution better, with an absence of Christian scruples necessarily leads to deaths in the tens of millions, rather than the tens of thousands, not a more “visionary creation.” Just ask Pol Pot, who, after all, studied in Paris, drinking deep of Revolutionary ideology. Third, Palmer is eager to make generalized excuses that relieve the Committee of moral responsibility—“The Terror was born of fear, from the terror in which men already lived, from the appalling disorder produced by five years of Revolution and the lawless habits of the old regime. It was anarchy that stood in the way of the stabilization of the Republic, and it was anarchy that was causing France to lose the war.” This is more slipperiness. That men lived in one type of fear does not imply that more fear is the obvious solution, and this is just throwing excuses at the wall and hoping one sticks with the reader. Moreover, the endless purges of mostly imaginary enemies were the very definition of anarchy, not a solution for it, which is why the Committee ultimately destroyed itself. Perhaps it’s easier to see from the vantage point of 2018 than of 1941, but it’s very obvious that the source of leftist terror is leftist ideas and thought patterns, not the fact that seizing power usually generates enemies and disorders. The creation of order does not require terror. Concealing this rather obvious truth seems to be the project of most modern historians of the Terror, all men of the Left themselves, who therefore recoil from the necessary conclusion. Palmer’s project of excusing the Terror can also be seen indirectly, through his continual commentary on the scholarly controversies of the half century preceding the publication of his book, mostly centering on two French academic luminaries: Alphonse Aulard and Albert Mathiez, the latter a proud Marxist who, according to Palmer, held (along with his entire school, still extant today) “that Robespierre was always right.” According to Palmer, both Aulard and Mathiez, who collectively at the time totally dominated scholarship about the Revolution, excused the Terror as necessary. While Palmer agrees that the Terror was necessary, he likes to snipe at Mathiez’s ideological prison, saying, for example, that he was “of the opinion that his hero [Robespierre] was better justified by certain principles of class struggle than by the ideas which Robespierre himself never tired of expounding.” All these scholars, though, strongly approved of the Revolution and approved of much or all of the Terror; their disagreements appear to have revolved around causes, dividing into Marxists and non-Marxists, and whether Robespierre was a hero whose death prevented utopia from arriving, or a villain who maybe took the Terror just a little bit too far. Palmer fits right into the this tradition, whether he admits it or not. [Review completes as first comment.]

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    For two years after the French revolution, France was ruled by a committee of twelve men. At the time of their ascent to power, France was in chaos, its ports closed by the British and foreign armies were driving toward its borders. The "Committee of Public Safety" as it was known, realized that if they failed in their mission to stabilize France, they would be treated as murderers of their king and destroy ers of the few democratic gains that had been accomplished by that time. As we shall see For two years after the French revolution, France was ruled by a committee of twelve men. At the time of their ascent to power, France was in chaos, its ports closed by the British and foreign armies were driving toward its borders. The "Committee of Public Safety" as it was known, realized that if they failed in their mission to stabilize France, they would be treated as murderers of their king and destroy ers of the few democratic gains that had been accomplished by that time. As we shall see, the term "democracy" was used very loosely indeed. R. R. Palmer recounts the events of "The Year of Terror" in Twelve Who Ruled.This book was finished in 1941, and it contains oblique (but not opaque) references to invading armies and the dangers of totalitarianism. The twelve were an interesting combination. Robespierre, a lonely bachelor and idealist, who was against capital punishment, fell under the guillotine. Carnot was a mathematical genius, former army officer and engineer. He became a revolutionary because advancement in the army was limited to aristocrats. Barere, like Robespierre a lawyer, was a shifty politician who believed in public participation in government. Saint-Just was the enfant-terrible of the revolution, originally a playboy, but eventually rising to become a dedicated and principled leader. Saint-Andre was a Protestant minister (before 1787 it had been illegal to be a Protestant) and former ship captain who believed in secular control of religion because religious fervor too often conflicted with public order. Billan-Varenne was a self-educated lawyer and committed anti-Catholic who wanted to confiscate all church property and made good use of the guillotine. He was totally intolerant of others' viewpoints. The sullen Callot was the only one of the twelve not established in a profession. As an actor (considered social outcasts during the 18th century,) he craved recognition. Herault de Sechells was the only nobleman on the Committee, completely amoral and an egoist. Of the other three, Lindet, Pierre- Louis Prieur and Claude-Antoine Prieur (no relation,) not much is known. The peasantry, which comprised 4/5ths of the population, was not represented. None of the twelve had ever done manual labor, all were fairly well-off and except for Herault, were members of the middle class; provincials who knew nothing of the city proletariat. Why should this group lead the revolution and terror? Palmer's explanation is that all were intellectuals, steeped in philosophy, but ensnared in a middle class with no place to go. The aristocracy despised them and placed numerous artificial barriers in their paths. The church was corrupt, badly in need of reform, and had lost all moral and intellectual leadership. The Committee longed for a simpler more natural form of government and religion. They detested compromise, tolerated no free discussion, even among themselves. Ironically they did not start the revolution but stepped into the vacuum it created. It is paradoxical that the French, who tried so hard to recreate the American Revolution, and who fervently believed in Constitutional government, feared factions and divisive thought. Robespierre's statement of 5 Nivose -- they had invented their own calendar based on the metric system which was mandatory but virtually ignored -- was a dramatic statement of the philosophy of dictatorship and an attempt to suppress factions. He should have read James Madison more thoroughly. Madison believed factions were an essential component of the defense against tyranny. Robespierre wanted to save the people from themselves. For him factionalism was synonymous with treasonable conspiracy (a la McCarthy, Alien and Sedition Acts, etc. -- 20th century Americans would do well to reread Madison.) Of course, the Committee failed politically. As a minority it decided it could succeed only by recourse to the Terror, to which it ultimately succumbed. Their goal was to create a democracy based on a common cause and belief system. Yet, paradoxically, even a century later, the Republic was associated with suppression of liberty, persecution of religion, violence and terror. More faith in diversity and democracy would have been their salvation. Democracy, totalitarianism, and intolerance cannot coexist. '

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Arnold

    The French Revolution is obviously a vast field of history, so it was nice to read such a focused work, and especially one that was so well-written. I'd previously read and really enjoyed Victor Hugo's famous novel Ninety-Three that covers the same time period, and this was an excellent non-fiction counterpart. It covers the actions of the twelve men who constituted the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror from September 5, 1793 until July 28, 1794. Palmer discusses their origin The French Revolution is obviously a vast field of history, so it was nice to read such a focused work, and especially one that was so well-written. I'd previously read and really enjoyed Victor Hugo's famous novel Ninety-Three that covers the same time period, and this was an excellent non-fiction counterpart. It covers the actions of the twelve men who constituted the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror from September 5, 1793 until July 28, 1794. Palmer discusses their origins and pre-Revolutionary lives, how they managed to end up in their positions of power, their activities during that turbulent period, and the crises that led up to the day of 9 Thermidor, the famous Thermidorian Reaction, when Robespierre, the Committee's leader, was guillotined along with his colleague Saint-Just and the Revolution ended its most frenetic phase. The book has a strong narrative style, which is excellent, because this is a confusing time to read about (though of course even more so to actually live through). There are plenty of different groups: the Convention, the Commune, the Committee, the clubs, and Palmer does a good job of explaining who all these groups are and how they related to each other. The Committee, which was intended to be a sort of cabinet, was instituted to solve France's leadership problem and add a little stability to a revolution that had been going on for nearly half a decade, with mixed results. The relationship between political and military instability during this period was notable, and reminded me somewhat of the US Civil War, with politically appointed generals often failing in their campaigns, while the results of those same campaigns threatened to discredit the government that sent them. Despite the increased effectiveness of the French army due to the levée en masse and other Republican techniques (in contrast to the more aristocratic navy, which suffered tremendously from its purges), the Committee's efforts to repel the foreign invaders only really began to pay off towards the end of the Terror. An additional problem for the Committee was that they just weren't very popular, and hence didn't have a lot of legitimacy with important constituencies like, for example, the people of France. Palmer describes the law of 14 Frimaire, which significantly centralized power, as "an instrument of Terror because the government which it strengthened was the creation of a minority, the triumphant leaders of the Mountain, itself a party among republicans, who in turn were only a party among the original revolutionists, who in their turn did not include all the people in France. As in the name of liberty France now possessed the most dictatorial government it had ever known, so, in the name of the people, it now had the political system which, of all the systems in its history, probably the fewest people really liked." A classic component of leadership, and in fact maybe the biggest one, is the task of managing interactions with people who disagree with you. While the Committee was faced with challenges that would strain the capacities of even the best leaders (foreign invasions, economic collapse, rampant factionalism, religious turbulence, and all the small dervishes spawned by that larger tempest), their solution of the guillotine has done a lot to posthumously discredit their work. And to that end, much of the modern Anglosphere understanding of the Revolution is in the Burke/Carlyle/Dickens tradition of seeing it as a senseless maelstrom of blood, headed by inflexible fanatics, sustained by mobs of howling peasants and red-eyed tricoteuses, and only ended by the operation of that same guillotine. However, once the Committee's decisions are seen in the light of the circumstances they faced, in large part they seem almost reasonable, as Palmer tries to show. An example is the debate over the role of religion in the new order. France at the time was very religious, and the Catholic Church was involved in many spheres of life in both positive and negative ways (see for example the famous career of Cardinal Richelieu in the previous century). Some of the revolutionaries wanted to completely dechristianize the country, some wanted to replace Christianity with a new state religion, some wanted to simply remove the Church's influence from political life, and some wanted no change at all. The Committee in many ways acted to check the impulses of the more radical revolutionaries to destroy all churches or defrock every priest, and it's instructive to note that many of those who were put to death were these more violent radicals. Not that that really excuses the sometimes arbitrary arrests and executions ordered by Robespierre and the rest of the Committee, of course, but while tens of thousands did die during the Terror, many of those deaths were not ordered by the Committee, and additionally you also have to take into account the atrocities committed by the previous regime (e.g. Louis XIV's massacre of 8,000 Parisians in 1788) and the state of total war that existed at the time. Additionally, as as the book is explicit about, there's a difference between a revolutionary party as it's involved in overthrowing governments, and the same party when it has to then govern. Revolutionaries are fiery, aggressive, and iconoclastic, while government officials need to be bureaucratic, conciliatory, and predictable - individuals with one group of qualities do not often have the other, and Robespierre et al. did much to transition the fury of the regicide into the steadiness of the administrator. The end of the Terror was not the end of violence, but when the Convention finally turned on the Committee, those who remained benefited from the work that had gone on before. In a way, one of the best indicators of the Committee's success was how much of its work was either kept or imitated, to the extent that the invading Allies suggested that they needed an international Committee of General Security to organize their armies as well as the French were doing. You can look at the Revolution as a sort of game theoretic move - once they introduced their methods of rationalizing, standardizing, and energizing, every other country was forced to adopt, adapt, or imitate their work. Plus, they had some really inspiring words. Robespierre in particular was an excellent orator, and some of the book's best parts are where Palmer steps back and lets the power of their vision shine: "We wish an order of things where all low and cruel passions are enchained by the laws, all beneficent and generous feelings awakened; where ambition is the desire to deserve glory and to be useful to one's country; where distinctions arise only from equality itself; where the citizen is subject to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people, the people to justice; where the country secures the welfare of each individual, and each individual proudly enjoys the prosperity and glory of his country; where all minds are enlarged by the constant interchange of republican sentiments and by the need of earning the respect of a great people; where industry is an adornment to the liberty that ennobles it, and commerce the source of public wealth, not simply of monstrous riches for a few families. We wish in a word to fulfill the course of nature, to accomplish the destiny of mankind, to make good the promises of philosophy, to absolve Providence from the long reign of tyranny and crime. May France, illustrious formerly among peoples of slaves, eclipse the glory of all free peoples that have existed, become the model to the nations, the terror of oppressors, the consolation of the oppressed, the ornament of the universe; and in sealing our work with our blood may we ourselves see at last the dawn of universal felicity gleam before us! That is our ambition. That is our aim."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    Palmer's account of the Terror is supposed to be a classic on the subject, and it is easy to see why. It's meticulously researched, well-written and is effortlessly communicated. That's not to say it is an easy read, it is not. The details can bog one down, but they're worth fighting through to the end of the chapter, when Palmer brilliantly pulls all the differing strands together to provide conclusions. Palmer's passion, which he does not try to hide, comes out and is in and of itself a propel Palmer's account of the Terror is supposed to be a classic on the subject, and it is easy to see why. It's meticulously researched, well-written and is effortlessly communicated. That's not to say it is an easy read, it is not. The details can bog one down, but they're worth fighting through to the end of the chapter, when Palmer brilliantly pulls all the differing strands together to provide conclusions. Palmer's passion, which he does not try to hide, comes out and is in and of itself a propellant to reading this book. PS: Robespierre in my opinion is very much like Shakespeare's Brutus, the only one who comes off as truly believing in the cause of the Terror and who really thought that he was doing the right thing. And Saint-Just seems to be the most exciting, highly-intelligent, handsome and unbelievably arrogant. A brilliant combination.

  9. 4 out of 5

    William Bahr

    If you’re generally familiar with the French Revolution and even if you’ve read “Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution” by Simon Schama, you’re guaranteed a real treat with Palmer’s “Twelve Who Ruled.” Together with Isser Woloch’s extremely helpful foreward, Palmer focuses specifically on the Reign of Terror, a timeframe many accept as going from 5 September 1793 (Bertrand Barre proclaims terror the “order of the day”!) until 27 July 1794 (the day before Robespierre’s execution). Palmer If you’re generally familiar with the French Revolution and even if you’ve read “Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution” by Simon Schama, you’re guaranteed a real treat with Palmer’s “Twelve Who Ruled.” Together with Isser Woloch’s extremely helpful foreward, Palmer focuses specifically on the Reign of Terror, a timeframe many accept as going from 5 September 1793 (Bertrand Barre proclaims terror the “order of the day”!) until 27 July 1794 (the day before Robespierre’s execution). Palmer clearly explains how the Twelve freedom dreamers became fire-and-brimstone dictators. Of special note, Palmer theorizes that the little-discussed event of 23 Ventose (13 March 1794) was extremely important. At that time, Saint-Just (one of the Twelve) claimed “Every party is then criminal because it is a form of isolation from the people…a form of independence from the government.” Whoever opposed the government was then officially in a state of insurrection, counter-revolution, criminality, and treason. Summary justice at the guillotine soon followed. The Committee of Public Safety was then “a full grown dictatorship,” all flowing from 23 Ventose. IMHO, Palmer does a great job of presenting the complex events that comprised the terror, how twelve seemingly reasonable, albeit inexperienced men wound up guiding the Terror, when 16 to 40 thousand people were guillotined. My bottom-line take-away is that Revolutionary France, in its attempt to export freedom, started what was euphemistically called a five-front war. To defend itself, the French government then quickly fell into disarray. Their Constitution was “written in the sky,” with little useful/practiced law connecting it to what was really happening on the ground. In other words, “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” were really just great sounding buzz-words for pie-in-the-sky idealistic dreams. Anarchy ensued, but many hoped that there was safety in numbers, and unity became the goal for survival. But what if all that united them was what they were against, not what they were for? Such governmental “unity” was dysfunctional. Thus, the Twelve, the Committee for Public Safety (CPS), maneuvered to gain control. With normal persuasion not working, CPS forcefully gained control through purges. And with persecution came paranoia and the continuous need for scapegoating (and further purges) when cascading emergencies arose in the wake of incompetent policy. Thus, did the Revolution devour its own children, the "Twelve Who Ruled." Note: "The Twelve Who Ruled" were just some of the more (in)famous members of the Committee of Public Safety, of which there were 13 versions from 25 March 1793 to 27 October 1795. The author’s twelve were all on the 4th Committee (5 September 1793 – 31 July 1794): Barere, Billaud-Varenne, Carnot, Collot, Couthon, Herault (de Sechelles), Jeanbon (Saint-Andre), Lindet, Prieur, Prieur-Duvernois, Robespierre, and Saint-Just. This twelve is not the same as the (Extraordinary) Commission of Twelve, which the Girondins, feeling threatened by Montagnard supporters, created on 21 May 1793 to look into all decisions made by the Commune over the previous month and to unmask all plots menacing the National Assembly. The Commission actions led to the revolt of 2 June 1793, the fall of the Girondins, and the start of the Reign of Terror. Highly recommended by a fellow author!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Hans

    Best book that I have read on the French Revolution to this date. Very thorough, clean and little blood. The nucleus of the period has been extensively described.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Still a favorite the second time through. The book is a great story. It's basically just one year of the French Revolution, describing the actions of the twelve people who were on the Committee of Public Safety. This group had a lot of power for that year, and they did a lot with it. It's impressive how much happened in a single year: they held back the Allied European powers that were invading France, they implemented all sorts of domestic laws, they went to different parts of France to prevent Still a favorite the second time through. The book is a great story. It's basically just one year of the French Revolution, describing the actions of the twelve people who were on the Committee of Public Safety. This group had a lot of power for that year, and they did a lot with it. It's impressive how much happened in a single year: they held back the Allied European powers that were invading France, they implemented all sorts of domestic laws, they went to different parts of France to prevent the country from falling apart, etc. And of course, there's the Terror, which is an important part of the French Revolution, but if you go into this book without a preconceived idea about whether the French Revolution was the best or worst thing that happened to Europe, you'll get a good perspective on what was going on. The book is also interesting because it shows the variety of French personalities that ended up as part of the ruling group in France. If you've ever worked on a committee yourself, you'll recognize people that are like them. Some are technocrats, others are politicians, etc. I have my favorites from the committee. Rereading it the second time, I was drawn to slightly different members of the committee. The book also shows different parts of France. The committee wasn't just in Paris; they went on "missions" to different parts of the country to help unify the nation against the European powers. Francophiles will enjoy this. In terms of how approachable it is, I think it helps to have a basic understanding of the French Revolution coming into this, but not much is necessary. I don't remember needing to Google anything when I read through this either time. Even without knowing the details of every political faction or knowing the weighty history of historical giants like Marat or Danton, you can follow what's going on. And the French Revolution is such an important piece of history! Highly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Nichols

    Though a bit of a slog sometimes - Palmer did a lot of research for this book and is fond of sharing anecdotes and details - TWELVE WHO RULED is otherwise an essential and generally very readable account of the Committee of Public Safety. Modern historians might quibble with some of Palmer's terminology, like his conflation of a “virtuous” (classical) republic with a democratic one, but I suspect relatively few would argue with his conclusion that the radical Jacobins replaced the revolutionary Though a bit of a slog sometimes - Palmer did a lot of research for this book and is fond of sharing anecdotes and details - TWELVE WHO RULED is otherwise an essential and generally very readable account of the Committee of Public Safety. Modern historians might quibble with some of Palmer's terminology, like his conflation of a “virtuous” (classical) republic with a democratic one, but I suspect relatively few would argue with his conclusion that the radical Jacobins replaced the revolutionary chaos of 1789-92 with a functioning government, one capable of quelling rebellion at home (however bloodily) and defending France against foreign armies. Ultimately, the author argues, Robespierre and his peeps fell victim to their own success: the regime they created became too efficient at identifying and arresting "conspirators" (100,000 in jail and 40,000 executed by July 1794), and no-one in the National Convention would tolerate the Great Terror once the threat of foreign invasion had passed. After the Committee of Public Safety fell, of course, France returned to revolutionary chaos until the only public institution that still worked, the Army, took charge.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Bascom

    Robert Palmer's "Twelve Who Ruled" is a scholarly history of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution -- that is, from the beginning of September 1793 until the fall and execution of Robespierre on 10 Thermidor the following year (July 28, 1794). Palmer was a well-known American scholar of the French Revolution from the early twentieth century, and although his book is very well-researched and is useful, he is unfortunately very biased in favor of the Revolution. Palmer focuses on the liv Robert Palmer's "Twelve Who Ruled" is a scholarly history of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution -- that is, from the beginning of September 1793 until the fall and execution of Robespierre on 10 Thermidor the following year (July 28, 1794). Palmer was a well-known American scholar of the French Revolution from the early twentieth century, and although his book is very well-researched and is useful, he is unfortunately very biased in favor of the Revolution. Palmer focuses on the lives, personalities, and roles of each of the twelve men who constituted the Committee of Public Safety, which was a type of executive power of the National Convention. Maximilien Robespierre and Louis Antoine de Saint-Just are the most well known and were its de facto leaders, but in theory, all twelve had equal say in the Committee. The other ten were Lazare Carnot, Bertrand Barère, Jeanbon Saint-André, Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, Georges Couthon, Robert Lindet, Pierre-Louis Prieur, Claude-Antoine Prieur-Duvernois, Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles, and Collot d'Herbois. All except two were from unremarkable, middle-class backgrounds and all were convinced Rousseauians. Elected members of the National Assembly, they radicalized along with the Revolution. A few months after the execution of Louis XVI, they managed to take power, throw off all pretense at incremental reform, and, by sword and guillotine, implement the most radical application of the principles of the Enlightenment. As Palmer admits, the French Revolution was the first bloody, totalitarian dictatorship in the modern sense. It foreshadowed nearly every dictatorship and genocide to come over the following two hundred years. Today we could say the twelve members of the Committee of Public Safety (and all the Jacobins) were psychopaths: dedicated to their cause with a truly religious zeal and ferocity, utterly unmoved by "bourgeois" feelings of pity towards their thousands of victims, full of hate for Catholicism, and secure in the certainty that they were history's elect, summoned for the salvation and regeneration of mankind. In truth, they were the spiritual ancestors of the Communards, Socialists, Marxists, Communists, Bolsheviks, Trotskyites, and National Socialists. Some estimates put the number of Frenchmen killed during the French Revolution at 1 million, including victims of the Terror, famines, the Revolutionary Wars, and the massacres such as the Vendéean Genocide. But it would be a mistake to think that the primary evil of the Reign of Terror was the number of victims. Robespierre and the other eleven wanted to utterly annihilate everything of the previous society, all history, tradition, social structures, religion, even the memory of the Ancien Régime. They changed the calendar to eliminate Catholic feast days and Sundays and launched a massive wave of "Dechristianization" that saw the destruction of churches, relics, statues, and the slaughter of priests, nuns, and countless French Catholics. Robespierre even created a new religion called the "Cult of the Supreme Being" with which he tried to replace Catholicism. The Committee also had plans to demolish castles, towers, churches, and chateaux from the Old Regime and began to implement (but never fully carried out) proto-socialist economic policies such as land and wealth redistribution. The Reign of Terror ended when most of the National Assembly feared that Robespierre was planning a great purge of the Assembly to consolidate his own power, just as he had done to Danton and the Hébertists 100 days before. In a preemptive strike, they arrested him along with Saint-Just and Couthon and guillotined them the following day, 10 Thermidor (July 28, 1794). The remaining nine shared different fates. Some were killed shortly after, others went on to support Napoleon, and others were exiled and died in poverty. Their lives after the fall of Robespierre were as unremarkable as their lives before 1789. Unfortunately, Palmer is always trying to excuse the Twelve of the worst abuses of the Terror. He often blames local officials such as Carrier or Fouché for the excesses of the Terror, claiming that the Twelve, and in particular Robespierre himself, didn't approve of the most radical excesses of the Terror. In fact, Robespierre wanted a more tightly controlled war on religion because he knew that a rabid slaughter of Catholics all over France would lead to uprisings like what happened in the Vendée, Brittany, and Lyon. Just like the Soviet Constitution, he paid lip service to "freedom of religion" but in practice tried to annihilate Catholicism and replace it with the Cult of the Nation and his very own Cult of the Supreme Being. A too-radical persecution would have provoked a reaction and possible return to the monarchy (which is what happened following Napoleon). Although he does admit that they were guilty of terrible crimes (an obvious fact), Palmer is always trying to minimize the culpability of the Committee of Public Safety. The French Revolution is, like the Communist Revolution, one of those episodes of history towards which it is impossible to be neutral. Either you support it or oppose it. Palmer clearly supports it. I believe it was a Satanic orgy of hate and murder without justification and without precedent in history up until that time. As Joseph de Maistre wrote: "There is a satanic element in the French Revolution which distinguishes it from any other revolution known or perhaps that will be known. Remember the great occasions - Robespierre's speech against the priesthood, the solemn apostasy of the priests, the desecration of objects of worship, the inauguration of the goddess of Reason, and the many outrageous acts by which the provinces tried to surpass Paris: these all leave the ordinary sphere of crimes and seem to belong to a different world."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kate Woods Walker

    A solid, readable history of the Reign of Terror, Twelve Who Ruled by R.R. Palmer gives us a 1940s-era overview of the closing days of the French Revolution. The author's use of literary scenes to open each chapter helps the narrative along, and the insertion of the author's voice from time to time gave me needed perspective on what is, ultimately, a cast of hundreds, and intrigues almost as numerous. This was the fifth book in a series of five I tackled, and was clearly the superior history. Af A solid, readable history of the Reign of Terror, Twelve Who Ruled by R.R. Palmer gives us a 1940s-era overview of the closing days of the French Revolution. The author's use of literary scenes to open each chapter helps the narrative along, and the insertion of the author's voice from time to time gave me needed perspective on what is, ultimately, a cast of hundreds, and intrigues almost as numerous. This was the fifth book in a series of five I tackled, and was clearly the superior history. After suffering through Hibbert's Days of the French Revolution I actually enjoyed reading most of this book. It seemed to flow most easily when the author recounted military maneuvers or battles, although he did a creditable job with the politics and economics as well.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    We have 2 levels of understanding of most events. First there is the myth, filtered through the bias of the group, and then there is an intimate understanding of the inner workings of the event, which brings out the humanity and often the tragedy of its participants. Palmer is a bit of each for he was a revolutionary romantic, but one committed to evidence and unwilling to ignore the complexity of human experience. Twelve Who Ruled is a classic of its kind, being fair and honest without being cy We have 2 levels of understanding of most events. First there is the myth, filtered through the bias of the group, and then there is an intimate understanding of the inner workings of the event, which brings out the humanity and often the tragedy of its participants. Palmer is a bit of each for he was a revolutionary romantic, but one committed to evidence and unwilling to ignore the complexity of human experience. Twelve Who Ruled is a classic of its kind, being fair and honest without being cynical. This is the French Revolution as tragedy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This is an excellent work of historical scholarship. It can be a bit dry at times, though that is to be expected when reading scholarly works. Palmer has a distinct narrative voice that carries throughout the book and heightens the reading experience. I found that this read like a 12-part biography (if the title wasn't a giveaway), with a backdrop of the Year of Terror. Particular focus was given to Robespierre, but that's not exactly a surprise when reading about the French Revolution. This is an excellent work of historical scholarship. It can be a bit dry at times, though that is to be expected when reading scholarly works. Palmer has a distinct narrative voice that carries throughout the book and heightens the reading experience. I found that this read like a 12-part biography (if the title wasn't a giveaway), with a backdrop of the Year of Terror. Particular focus was given to Robespierre, but that's not exactly a surprise when reading about the French Revolution.

  17. 5 out of 5

    AskHistorians

    One of the standard histories of the Terror, but again more of a professional history.

  18. 5 out of 5

    J.H. Everett

    Author: Robert Rosewell Palmer (1909 – 2002). Palmer was born in Chicago, Illinois. He was educated at the University of Chicago and Cornell, finishing his Ph.D. 1934. He taught political history at Princeton (1936-63; 1966-69) and Yale (1969). His focus on the French Revolution as the "shaping" event in modern history received recognition with a Bancroft Award (1960) for The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760--1800 (volume I, 1959; volume II, 1964) Author: Robert Rosewell Palmer (1909 – 2002). Palmer was born in Chicago, Illinois. He was educated at the University of Chicago and Cornell, finishing his Ph.D. 1934. He taught political history at Princeton (1936-63; 1966-69) and Yale (1969). His focus on the French Revolution as the "shaping" event in modern history received recognition with a Bancroft Award (1960) for The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760--1800 (volume I, 1959; volume II, 1964). Review: Thesis: Palmer revisits the question of why such extreme violence broke out during the French Revolution. He concentrates on the Terror (roughly September 1793 – summer 1794), the peak of Revolutionary violence, paranoia, and the famed guillotine. Concerned that other types of historical scholarship missed vital details that could answer the question, Palmer sets out a micro-history, which closely examines the rise and fall of the twelve individuals seated on the Committee of Public Safety (the small autocratic committee that briefly gained leadership of the National Convention). Palmer takes great pains to trace the background of the twelve men involved, the fits and starts of their rapid ascent to power, and their fall. He includes an epilogue that briefly traces the lives of the members who survived the Terror and their time on the committee, into the Napoleonic Empire and the restoration of the monarchy under King Louis XVIII. Whenever possible, through his evidence he dramatically recreates emotions, arguments, tense situations, and pivotal moments of the Terror. Through his meticulous micro-study, Palmer makes a convincing case for the complex motivating forces both inside and outside of Paris that ultimately determined people’s courses of action. Methodology: Palmer’s work uses many historical methods related with the Annales School (whole history thinking, broad human interest, detailed evidence, environmental conditions and unusual documentation), while consciously modifying or choosing not to employ other aspects of it. He employs a dramatic style, often letting evidence stand for itself without comment. Specifically, he denies the long dureé and broad sociological history often associated with the Annales School. Palmer appropriates bits of Annales School thought. Yet, his approach employs them in a modified way. For instance, he approaches the greater scale of events of the French Revolution (city versus country, foreign versus domestic, class struggle) through this narrow example of the Committee of Public Safety and a brief period of time (micro as an explanation of the macro). Likewise, he is interested in the cause of the poor, Sans-Culottes, but approaches them through their struggle over power with the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety. Unlike the “bottom-up” accounts typical of Annales history, Palmer instead focuses on the details of the authority and power struggles of the middle class. Place in Scholarship: Though an American scholar, Palmer has a definite connection with the Annales School, but is not a strict Annales School scholar. He attributes the idea and inspiration for his book to Georges Lefebvre (co-founder of the Annales School, 1929) and his book Révolution française (1951), commenting, “The present author continues to believe that Georges Lefebvre…was unsurpassed for wide and sympathetic insight into all aspects of the French Revolution.” Palmer also makes note that this particular book was in response to doubts that he had concerning the “kind of historical necessity” that both Albert Soboul (Marxist) and François Furet (revisionist) saw in the Revolution. Palmer finds himself much aligned to the other Annales School founder, Marc Bloch, in his understanding of man as a complex creature under the stress of many different cultural, environmental, sociological and economic pressures. He disputes Soboul’s “Marxist type dialectic or class conflict involving a transition from feudalism to capitalism,” believing it to be an oversimplification of the conflicts that created the Terror. Palmer argues his point by analyzing the complex, non-class conflicts (personality incompatibilities, vainglory, unsubstantiated, but reacted-upon fears) and inner class conflicts (between the middle-class and the Sans-Culottes as supported by ex-nobles, and country poor versus city poor) that were occurring inside Paris during the brief year of the Committee’s power. Likewise, Palmer determines that Furet prefers to “understand the Revolution in terms of consequences or of long trends both preceding and following the event.” Palmer believes that this perspective “subordinate[s] the conscious intentions and language of the Revolutionaries to underlying or structural considerations.” In response, Palmer strives to recreate the messy, human aspects of the Terror through an abundance of quotes from the people themselves Types of Sources: Palmer states that the “book depends entirely on works in print.” He groups his print sources into three distinct categories: first, imprints from the time of the Revolution including periodical press, books, pamphlets, and printed versions of speeches in the National Convention; second, compilations published in later years of papers in the Archives Nationales and depositories; and third, monographs, biographies, and specialized articles by other researchers. Especially worth noting are the types of evidence that he pulls out of his sources, including: environmental conditions, emotional states, secret police records, and petty squabbles, all of which contribute to the three- dimensional, flesh and blood characters about whom he writes. All biographical information quoted from (http://search.biography.com), copyright 2002. R.R. Palmer, The Twelve Who Ruled, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 402. Ibid. Ibid. R.R. Palmer, 397. Ibid. 2. The members of the Committee of Public Safety became terrorists for several reasons and by several different means; for the most part, they first backed the policies of the common people including democracy, liberty and equality. However, Robespierre and the 12 who ruled dangerously thought themselves to know better than the people that they were leading, they thought that the common person might not understand what was best for them and as leaders they sometimes had to make decisions against the common will. The speed and the pressure that the people put on them to draw a constitution and deal with all of the problems of government was unrelenting and the twelve started making decisions in haste, in what they thought was a proper form for a revolutionary government. Although they professed no intention of being the permanent governing body, they reacted in fear and paranoia about protecting themselves and the ideals that they were intent on enacting. Robespierre who commonly felt that conspiracies were everywhere mostly set this paranoid tone. 3. Again, the committee had no stated intention of permanence; they wanted to make sure that democracy was the ultimate goal of their actions. Their ideas were very Rousseauian; the idea of forcing people to be free, and that without a central control, the revolution could potentially fall apart. Most of the members of the committee were quite pragmatic and did not want to rock the boat too much, but they were certain of themselves and their own ideals. 4. The twelve were mostly lawyers, educated and at least upper class, they were not necessarily in touch with the poorer side of the Sans-Culottes. However, the Committee needed them for support and members of the Committee helped to idealized the poorer workers, praising them for their strength and their commitment to the revolution. When the Committee first came to power one of the most important connections that they made with the Sans-Culottes was the Maximum, a fixing of the ceiling of bread and agricultural prices so that farmers and merchants could not over-inflate prices beyond the reach of the common working man’s wages. This, on the other hand, led to merchant classes (many within the Sans culottes) to complain of unfair prices that did not even cover the cost of production; this fueled anger by the lack of commitment by the CPS to the capping wages as well. The Sans-Culottes demanded the increases in wage, but did not want the inflation of prices as well. All of this led to the creation of a black market in which the farmers subverted and sold grain, meant for government distribution, at the prices they considered fair. The inability of the CPS to control this economic relationship eventually led to a gap between them and their staunchest supporters, the Sans-Culottes. 5. The CPS inevitably failed for many reasons, the type of rule that they were attempting was too difficult; they had created many enemies, the CPS’ power during the Terror frightened members of the Convention. The paranoia took over; plots were everywhere and this lead to a breakdown of unity, even within the CPS itself. There was a further breakdown of unity over matters of religion and religious freedom. Eventually, the members of the CPS failed to act, as they did in the beginning, as a team – they specialized in the everyday running of the government, they were tired of each other and public sentiment changed towards them over economic and military matters. The inability for the CPS to control bread prices and wage ceilings brought them into distrust with the people left in the district, and France was winning their external wars (at the cost of many Sans-Culotte supporters of the CPS) and the CPS was losing ground. Consequently, with the main supporters of the CPS called away to the warfront, the CPS was open and vulnerable to attack from opposing groups. With little support left on the home front, the CPS crumbled under the strain.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    There are big gaps in my knowledge of the French Revolution. My mind holds only the broadest outline: Louis XVI calls the Estates General because France is nearly bankrupt, and he needs new taxes. They turn themselves into the Constituent Assembly. The Bastille is stormed. The king is executed. Chaos ensues. Many people die. Napoleon comes along and makes himself emperor. But a lot of stuff happened in between, and a much of it is a blur for me. This book helped to fill in a big gap in the middl There are big gaps in my knowledge of the French Revolution. My mind holds only the broadest outline: Louis XVI calls the Estates General because France is nearly bankrupt, and he needs new taxes. They turn themselves into the Constituent Assembly. The Bastille is stormed. The king is executed. Chaos ensues. Many people die. Napoleon comes along and makes himself emperor. But a lot of stuff happened in between, and a much of it is a blur for me. This book helped to fill in a big gap in the middle -- the year in which France was ruled by the Committee of Public Safety and its most famous member, Robespierre, when Terror become the official policy and many heads rolled under the blade of the guillotine. This book is filled with facts and events. It has its share of interpretation and historical point of view, but it is mostly very objective. That was exactly what I wanted. I'm sure that I won't remember much of the fire hose drenching of facts that I got from this book, but plenty will stick and now I have a much better sense of the flow of events in this critical year, including the efforts to put down internal rebellion, the ebb and flow of antireligious sentiment, the efforts to rebuild a viable army and navy in the face of severe external threats, the ongoing efforts to remake society in a new mould, and the factionalism that led to repeated purges and murders within the radical revolutionaries who controlled the government. I was expecting to get a much better sense of Robespierre as a person, but he comes off as being very bland and gray, maneuvering in the background until he finally maneuvers himself to his own doom. In reading this book, I was struck again and again with the parallels between the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. The author several times refers to parallels to the Nazis, but doesn't mention the Russians at all. I'm sure that in some ways the Russians consciously followed the example of the French, but there is much more to it than that, and I can only conclude that much of what happened in both revolutions is a natural result of any situation where a small urban based radical group claiming to act for the people manages to seize power -- the factionalism and purges, the struggles between radicals and moderates, the food requisitions, the flip flops between loosening and tightening of economic control, the efforts to rebuild and expand the military, the politically reliable people sent to the provinces to enforce the will of the center, the use of arrest and execution as a political tool, and, of course, not to be omitted, the establishment and strengthening of the secret police. It made my skin crawl. I have little doubt that this pattern will be repeated in future history. I can only hope that I won't be around to see it because it will be even worse next time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mathieu

    This is both a brilliant and frustrating book. It is brilliant in the portrayal of the men who led France during its darkest hour, and as a comparison with those who could not lead and only collaborate in 1940. It is brilliant, also, because the decisions and leadership of these men is analysed in an rigorous and perceptive manner. It is brilliant, finally, in the contextualization of these decisions: the reader is able to understand, reading this account, why these men took these decisions, eve This is both a brilliant and frustrating book. It is brilliant in the portrayal of the men who led France during its darkest hour, and as a comparison with those who could not lead and only collaborate in 1940. It is brilliant, also, because the decisions and leadership of these men is analysed in an rigorous and perceptive manner. It is brilliant, finally, in the contextualization of these decisions: the reader is able to understand, reading this account, why these men took these decisions, even if, and perhaps even more so, when the rest of Europe was besieging France. If they had lost, then the republic would have been but a rose killed in the bud. It is also a very frustrating book for two reasons. First, the lack of precise critical apparel. Many affirmations and sentences are not backed up with actual sources. The bibliography section at the end does not truly help in this regard. Second, many assertions and interpretations are very dated, and reflect Palmer's liberal (religious?)/ American biases. They are not to be rejected; yet, they sound as if they are out of place here, not because it is a historical work, but precisely because its aim is to portray the men who led France in its most difficult period. The psychological considerations are very out-of-fashion in historiography today, and the overall analysis, that there was a system of 'Terror', has been convincingly disproved since then. I liked reading this book -- it is very well written, and today history-writing is too distanced to this kind of narrative -- but I also finished it with an immense frustration. Maybe this is the very definition of a good history book: one that gives its reader the urge to read others.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Harald Groven

    Political radicalism usually descend into tyranny. But how? The historian and 18th century specialist Robert Roswell Palmer tell the story of the Terror in France from 1793-94, from day to day from the collective perspective of the dictatorial government 12 members strong Committee for the public safety. Most people in revolutionary France was too busy securing enough food and paying their bills to participate in the political assemblies set up during the revolution. The result was that only 1%- Political radicalism usually descend into tyranny. But how? The historian and 18th century specialist Robert Roswell Palmer tell the story of the Terror in France from 1793-94, from day to day from the collective perspective of the dictatorial government 12 members strong Committee for the public safety. Most people in revolutionary France was too busy securing enough food and paying their bills to participate in the political assemblies set up during the revolution. The result was that only 1%-3% of people participated, so that the people's representatives where drawn from the most radical political clubs, consisting of mostly radical middle class lawyers and similar occupations. —"It was characteristic of the revolutionary leaders that, with palpable evidence to the contrary, they still believed the people enthusiastically behind them. They lived by faith and hope; they meant by the “people” something higher and nobler than the people that they saw; had they been more swayed by observable facts they would in all probability not have accomplished what they did. Consequently, on matters of public opinion, deputies on mission could rarely make an accurate report to their own government." — "It was a cardinal principle of [revolutionaries] that the people, the real people, could not be divided in its will. The struggle, in their eyes, was between patriots and enemies of the public weal; between the people and various weak individuals, private interests and purveyors of false doctrine. But where Mountaineers saw the people, Girondists saw merely a faction"

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexander

    An accessible, compulsively readable account of the life and death of the revolutionary Committee of Public Safety, highlighting its activities in the provinces, regarding the military, and in the politics of the National Convention. Assumes a degree of familiarity with the revolution, as non-Committee characters tend to be introduced with only a surname, and a few of the parallels with the then-current German Reich feel a bit strained (France pursued autarky, and so did Nazi Germany!). Makes a An accessible, compulsively readable account of the life and death of the revolutionary Committee of Public Safety, highlighting its activities in the provinces, regarding the military, and in the politics of the National Convention. Assumes a degree of familiarity with the revolution, as non-Committee characters tend to be introduced with only a surname, and a few of the parallels with the then-current German Reich feel a bit strained (France pursued autarky, and so did Nazi Germany!). Makes a strong case for many of the actions of the Committee, taking into account the anarchy that preceded them and the corruption that followed. Of all of the books on the revolution I have read, probably presents the most human portrait of Robespierre, giving (probable) reasoning for his actions that other authors have dismissed as mere power hunger (e.g. the execution of the Dantonists). A must-read for anyone looking to understand the French Revolution, or the nature of power within revolutions generally.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Teddy Dodger

    This book does two things well. It gives good insight into the lives and thought of a bunch of alcoholic 30-something lawyers who somehow take over a country. It tells us more about the 'names' beyond Robespierre and Saint-Just whom we have all heard of, and how even the Committe of Public Safety was divided into complex factions. And, written as it was in 1943 at the height of totalitarian regimes, it undercuts the tedeious Whig assumptions of the Terror regime as 'doomed to fail' etc etc, whil This book does two things well. It gives good insight into the lives and thought of a bunch of alcoholic 30-something lawyers who somehow take over a country. It tells us more about the 'names' beyond Robespierre and Saint-Just whom we have all heard of, and how even the Committe of Public Safety was divided into complex factions. And, written as it was in 1943 at the height of totalitarian regimes, it undercuts the tedeious Whig assumptions of the Terror regime as 'doomed to fail' etc etc, while also discussing effectively the numerous practical and ideological differences between the CPS regime and the 20th century dictatorships. It is thus insightful, for it's time, without relying on the lazy comparisons of later scholarship. Good for people with all levels of knowledge of the French Revolution.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rona

    When I studied the French Revolution in school, it began with Lafayette, went to Liberté, égalité, fraternité, then a single paragraph about beheadings galore and the monster Robespierre. Magically, then there was Napoleon. Needless to say, it is about time I filled this hole in my education. The French Reign of Terror was administered by men. Men who had lives just like anyone else, but also men who had power and had to figure out how to use it. This was written in the 1940s. That was when the When I studied the French Revolution in school, it began with Lafayette, went to Liberté, égalité, fraternité, then a single paragraph about beheadings galore and the monster Robespierre. Magically, then there was Napoleon. Needless to say, it is about time I filled this hole in my education. The French Reign of Terror was administered by men. Men who had lives just like anyone else, but also men who had power and had to figure out how to use it. This was written in the 1940s. That was when the idea of the banality of evil was in the air. That is, that regular people do horrible things and find a way to live their everyday lives, feeling self-justified. In this way, this book is a lesson for our time.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Kraai

    Compare this book to Hamiltion. Both try to rehabilitate historically unliked figures of the 1790s. This book could have been called Robespierre. It's mostly an amusing undertaking because we thereby learn something deep about the author. This book would have been better if it had focused entirely on R. We dabble in European war politics, we dabble in the factions, we dabble in philosophy, we dabble in economy - but not a lot becomes lucid. And there are a lot of sentences that begin: we don't r Compare this book to Hamiltion. Both try to rehabilitate historically unliked figures of the 1790s. This book could have been called Robespierre. It's mostly an amusing undertaking because we thereby learn something deep about the author. This book would have been better if it had focused entirely on R. We dabble in European war politics, we dabble in the factions, we dabble in philosophy, we dabble in economy - but not a lot becomes lucid. And there are a lot of sentences that begin: we don't really know what happened that day in the Green Room...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    This is a very good book but also a project to read. If I had been reading this for a class it would have been exactly what I expected, for leisure it was a bit much. Nonetheless, Palmer writes exceptionally well and the materiel is well presented and obviously well researched. In the forward Woloch writes that Palmer never revised the actual text despite several new editions being released over the years. I can see why he wouldn't have, why revise something you got right the first time? This is a very good book but also a project to read. If I had been reading this for a class it would have been exactly what I expected, for leisure it was a bit much. Nonetheless, Palmer writes exceptionally well and the materiel is well presented and obviously well researched. In the forward Woloch writes that Palmer never revised the actual text despite several new editions being released over the years. I can see why he wouldn't have, why revise something you got right the first time?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Aurora Dimitre

    I mean, the Terror is obviously the most interesting part of the French Revolution, and this book, especially considering it was originally published in 1941, is like, surprisingly... interesting? Like readably interesting. There are a lot of very interesting books that are hardly readable to the contemporary reader, but this one was like, damn, Palmer, this was interesting and readable and just good, man. Also the epilogue nearly made me cry so that's that. I mean, the Terror is obviously the most interesting part of the French Revolution, and this book, especially considering it was originally published in 1941, is like, surprisingly... interesting? Like readably interesting. There are a lot of very interesting books that are hardly readable to the contemporary reader, but this one was like, damn, Palmer, this was interesting and readable and just good, man. Also the epilogue nearly made me cry so that's that.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Cresci

    This is a staggeringly good study of the Terror and the men who organized it. It manages to weave so much context and nuance throughout the story of the Committee of Public Safety that by the end you're unable to think of the events of the Revolution the same way. It isn't seeking to praise or condemn anyone, but rather to examine the circumstances that led to such extraordinary (and damn fun to read about) events. This is a staggeringly good study of the Terror and the men who organized it. It manages to weave so much context and nuance throughout the story of the Committee of Public Safety that by the end you're unable to think of the events of the Revolution the same way. It isn't seeking to praise or condemn anyone, but rather to examine the circumstances that led to such extraordinary (and damn fun to read about) events.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Fernando Pestana da Costa

    The Terror of 1793-1794 has always been the most polemical period of the French Revolution, with the positions of both professional historians and educated lay people, both is France and abroad, covering the whole gamut from disgusted repel to whole-hearted endorsement. This book, by a distinguished American scholar, is a very clear and balanced introduction to the events, the personalities, and the context in which they acted. Very good.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Heather Wright

    I had just read A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens). It occurred to me that I didn't really know much about the facts behind the French Revolution. This book was recommended. The writing is old fashioned, I wish this book could be modernized. All the information is there, it is exquisitely researched, but the way it is written makes it more difficult to take in. I do recommend it, but you will need to be willing to wade through the organization of it. I had just read A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens). It occurred to me that I didn't really know much about the facts behind the French Revolution. This book was recommended. The writing is old fashioned, I wish this book could be modernized. All the information is there, it is exquisitely researched, but the way it is written makes it more difficult to take in. I do recommend it, but you will need to be willing to wade through the organization of it.

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