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One of the Western world’s most epic uprisings, the French Revolution ended a monarchy that had ruled for almost a thousand years. George-Jacques Danton was the driving force behind it. In the first biography of Danton in over forty years, David Lawday reveals the larger-than-life figure who joined the fray at the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was dead five years la One of the Western world’s most epic uprisings, the French Revolution ended a monarchy that had ruled for almost a thousand years. George-Jacques Danton was the driving force behind it. In the first biography of Danton in over forty years, David Lawday reveals the larger-than-life figure who joined the fray at the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was dead five years later. To hear Danton speak, his booming voice a roll of thunder, excited bourgeois reformers and the street alike; his impassioned speeches, often hours long, drove the sans culottes to action and kept the Revolution alive. But as the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Danton struggled to steer the increasingly divided Revolutionary government. Working tirelessly to halt the bloodshed of Robespierre’s Terror, he ultimately became another of its victims. True to form, Danton did not go easily to the guillotine; at his trial, he defended himself with such vehemence that the tribunal convicted him before he could rally the crowd in his favor. In vivid, almost novelistic prose, Lawday leads us from Danton’s humble roots to the streets of Revolutionary Paris, where this political legend acted on the stage of the revolution that altered Western civilization.


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One of the Western world’s most epic uprisings, the French Revolution ended a monarchy that had ruled for almost a thousand years. George-Jacques Danton was the driving force behind it. In the first biography of Danton in over forty years, David Lawday reveals the larger-than-life figure who joined the fray at the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was dead five years la One of the Western world’s most epic uprisings, the French Revolution ended a monarchy that had ruled for almost a thousand years. George-Jacques Danton was the driving force behind it. In the first biography of Danton in over forty years, David Lawday reveals the larger-than-life figure who joined the fray at the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was dead five years later. To hear Danton speak, his booming voice a roll of thunder, excited bourgeois reformers and the street alike; his impassioned speeches, often hours long, drove the sans culottes to action and kept the Revolution alive. But as the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Danton struggled to steer the increasingly divided Revolutionary government. Working tirelessly to halt the bloodshed of Robespierre’s Terror, he ultimately became another of its victims. True to form, Danton did not go easily to the guillotine; at his trial, he defended himself with such vehemence that the tribunal convicted him before he could rally the crowd in his favor. In vivid, almost novelistic prose, Lawday leads us from Danton’s humble roots to the streets of Revolutionary Paris, where this political legend acted on the stage of the revolution that altered Western civilization.

54 review for The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    One of the most emotional biographies I have ever read. Lawday's mixture of fact, quotations, and prose creates a truly moving book about one of the most vital figures of the French Revolution. It is refreshing to find a writer who can talk about both Robespierre and Danton without demonizing the other. Overall, a fantastic read. I would recommend this to anyone who loves history in general. Guest appearance by Thomas Paine makes it all the better. One of the most emotional biographies I have ever read. Lawday's mixture of fact, quotations, and prose creates a truly moving book about one of the most vital figures of the French Revolution. It is refreshing to find a writer who can talk about both Robespierre and Danton without demonizing the other. Overall, a fantastic read. I would recommend this to anyone who loves history in general. Guest appearance by Thomas Paine makes it all the better.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joe Banks

    On a fine spring afternoon in Paris three centuries ago the extraordinary life of the brawny hero of the sans-culottes, the man who had led revolutionary France through it's difficult infancy, Georges-Jacques Danton, was ended on the guillotine. His mighty voice, once the brashest trumpet of radicalism, which had helped to condemn a king to the same fate, was silenced, for advocating moderation and humanity amid the growing paranoia and violence of the revolution. Facing death not with courage, On a fine spring afternoon in Paris three centuries ago the extraordinary life of the brawny hero of the sans-culottes, the man who had led revolutionary France through it's difficult infancy, Georges-Jacques Danton, was ended on the guillotine. His mighty voice, once the brashest trumpet of radicalism, which had helped to condemn a king to the same fate, was silenced, for advocating moderation and humanity amid the growing paranoia and violence of the revolution. Facing death not with courage, but rather with petulant daring; pock-marked, ugly-as-sin Danton claimed an existential triumph over the forces which destroyed him, with the defiant humour of his last words to the executioner: "Show my head to the people. It's well worth a look". This is the Danton of David Lawday's excellent biography: the fearless voice of compassion at a time of terror, the flamboyant orator who sometimes let his rhetoric get out of hand, the man who could be bribed, but never bought - the bull in the china shop. It is an impressionistic and admiring portrait, if ultimately it is too forgiving. The characterisation in this book is, from a narrative perspective really excellent. Lawday describes the clash of personalities between the ascetic purist Robespierre and the populist sybarite Danton which ultimately led to their fatal falling out with a refined dramatic instinct. Likewise the psychology of the hatred felt for Danton by Mme Roland, a key figure in the federalist Girondin movement is well explored, even if the author's analysis - that this coarse manly ogre both repelled and fascinated her - is laced with insinuation which could be viewed patronising or even chauvinistic. There is a larger problem with the characterisation, which is that the historical and political disputes sometimes take a back seat to the psychological drama. Explaining these figures' motives from the scraps left to history, is a matter of intuition and guesswork, which the author does very well, but which does involve some dramatic license. The book praises Danton's actions as the de facto wartime leader of the revolution in 1793. The levee-en-masse is singled out as one of his greatest achievements, conscription on an unprecedented scale helped to protect the fledgling republic from the Austrian and Prussian armies. His shrewd diplomacy and politics that year are equally lauded. Even in his moment of triumph though, Danton was establishing what would become the twin engines of violence during the revolutionary terror, the committee of public safety and the revolutionary tribunal, which aimed to try, condemn and execute its victims within twenty-four hours. Lawday forgives this too easily. Danton created these bodies to control the bloody passions of the Parisian mob, and to suppress a perceived fifth column of royalists and the die-hard clergy within France, and, although he saw political violence as a double-edged sword, eventually he unleashed it on the Girondin faction. If he showed humanity and mercy in some situations it has to be weighed against the ruthless violence he was prepared to show at other times. This book is as daring and arresting as Danton himself. It is extremely well written, and brings historical personalities to life in an immediate and exciting way. It would be difficult to write a balanced view of the life and motives of Danton, he divided people in his own time and left little written explanation of his thoughts and feelings, despite living at a time when most people of his class wrote private letters by the score. The author is perhaps entitled therefore to look at the brief, contradictory existence of Georges-Jacques Danton - his compassion, his courage, his crimes - and see the best in him.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Morgan Sanders

    While interesting, it would have been nice to have annotations and citations in the book so it could be easier to differentiate between conjecture of the author and actual information.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Celeste

    This book was very enjoyable, but I'm not so sure about helpful. Well, sure, it was helpful, but there was no information in this book that I couldn't have gotten anywhere else. And I mean, if I could get all of this information and more in another book, then why should I read this one? I will admit that this book was very fun to read, which is great! It's good to have something fun to read when you're reading for a historical project and a lot of times the books that you have to read for the sa This book was very enjoyable, but I'm not so sure about helpful. Well, sure, it was helpful, but there was no information in this book that I couldn't have gotten anywhere else. And I mean, if I could get all of this information and more in another book, then why should I read this one? I will admit that this book was very fun to read, which is great! It's good to have something fun to read when you're reading for a historical project and a lot of times the books that you have to read for the sake of learning are not necessarily entertaining. But this book was fun. No doubt of it. We also got information on the friendship between Camille [Desmoulins] and Danton which is not something that we see often--we see a lot of Robespierre's friendship with Camille, but Danton and Camille's friendship usually gets... snubbed(?). I'd even argue that Camille was better friends with Danton than he was with Robespierre (at least at the end of it all). So it was good to see some of that. I liked the wonderful way in which Mr. Lawday illustrated Camille. We often see Camille as just the right hand man who kind of sat in the background, but Mr. Lawday brought him out of that backlight and showed how immensely courageous Camille was and could be as well as how absolutely essential Camille was to the revolution and bringing light to liberty. Overall, I liked this book. I didn't love it, but it was good!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ty

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I really wanted to enjoy this book, but the author's rose colored blinders made it impossible. At worst Danton is I blood thirsty tyrant corrupted by power, at best he is a stupidly reckless imbecile. Either way he is to blame for the every negative aspect of the women's march on Versailles, the ravaging of the Tuileries & the September Massacres, but the author can't help but downplay his role throughout the Revolution. It began with the author's assignment of blame to Benjamin Franklin for Fra I really wanted to enjoy this book, but the author's rose colored blinders made it impossible. At worst Danton is I blood thirsty tyrant corrupted by power, at best he is a stupidly reckless imbecile. Either way he is to blame for the every negative aspect of the women's march on Versailles, the ravaging of the Tuileries & the September Massacres, but the author can't help but downplay his role throughout the Revolution. It began with the author's assignment of blame to Benjamin Franklin for Frances financial decline. It's reasonable to say that the American Revolution cost the French a lot of $$$ financially, but the blame can hardly be placed upon Franklin's (or America's) shoulders when France had their own selfish reasons for helping America (e.g. sticking it to England). They provided aid on their terms & within their timetable. Besides, the state of France's money matters, and the levels of separation between the monarchy, the church, the nobility & literally everybody else had been incredibly unfair for over 1000 years! These things, in addition to poor harvests, brought about the French Revolution, not America. In fact, I think it's fair to say that if America can be blamed for anything it's that it inspired a more equal system to be brought about. Next, the author is ridiculously one-sided when it comes to his views on Lafayette. He continually blames him for major issues while completely ignoring the fact that he (Lafayette) was reacting to misfortunes rather than lighting the fuse. For example, he claims Lafayette defected to the enemy when he fled Paris. The truth is he saw where the Revolution was going & decided to escape before he list his life. Anyone with half a brain could see it was getting out of control & anyone with the means to flee did just that. That's not defection, it's self preservation. Furthermore, his actions after the war, til the end of his life, prove his devotion to his country. Since this book was released in 2009 the author should've known better & not painted him out to be a villainous traitor. His telling of the storming of the Tuileries & Danton's lack of intervention during the September Massacres are also ridiculously underrepresented. The murder & savagery of those killed on August 10th isn't even mentioned & the whole ordeal gets less than a footnote of attention. In other words, the author glossed over the details to make Danton appear in a better light than he deserves. During the September Massacres he literally says, "to hell with the prisoners, let them save themselves," but the author claims he was "helpless" & "sickened." GIVE ME A BREAK!!! Perhaps Danton shouldn't have incited the violence & brought about the murderous rampage??? I'm only halfway through the book & can't decide whether to finish it or not due to the lack of understanding & sympathy the author has given to other key members of time & his blindness towards Danton's own incredibly blatant faults. Danton was a commanding presence, a force to be reckoned with. To downplay his role in the Revolution is not only a great disservice to the man himself, but it's outright falsifying history. Danton had numerous opportunities to intervene, but he chose not to. He then continued to rouse the crowds & encourage more blood lust, that's hardly the behavior of a helpless, sickened individual. **************************

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Drew

    Two and a half stars maybe? Unfortunately, I read this on the heels of Hilary Mantel’s A Place I’d Greater Safety, which fleshes out the backstories and in-betweens for Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre so thoroughly and convincingly that this stylized account of Danton just couldn’t hold a candle to Mantel’s absolute torch. Still, not a bad read and thankfully quite concise.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shane Hill

    An enjoyable read that is the story of one of the few major characters of the French Revolution that had some redeeming qualities.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Lawday admits at the start that this is a slightly romanticised history, because Danton committed almost nothing to paper. There are no footnotes, although there are references at the back giving some indication of where ideas and quotes came from. And it is a bit romantic: Lawday sometimes lets himself go on flights of descriptive fancy about the streets of Paris and the countryside around Arcis, Danton's birthplace; and he gets a bit smoochy over Danton and his wife Gabrielle's relationship. T Lawday admits at the start that this is a slightly romanticised history, because Danton committed almost nothing to paper. There are no footnotes, although there are references at the back giving some indication of where ideas and quotes came from. And it is a bit romantic: Lawday sometimes lets himself go on flights of descriptive fancy about the streets of Paris and the countryside around Arcis, Danton's birthplace; and he gets a bit smoochy over Danton and his wife Gabrielle's relationship. The other romantic aspect, and the thing that annoyed me the most, was that Lawday's vision of Danton as a hero apparently demanded that there be a genuine fiction-like villain for him to play against. Robespierre, the man probably responsible for Danton's death, is the obvious candidate here, and Lawday goes out of his way to malign and belittle him as unmanly and insipid, in contrast to the testosterone-fuelled Danton. But what really, really got my back up was that Lawday also featured Manon Roland, wife of Danton's fellow elected official Jean-Marie Roland. It seems clear that Mme Roland and Danton did not get along. Lawday, though, plays this up in sexualised and demeaning ways that were occasionally outright offensive. Having recently read Liberty, about the contribution of women to the Revolution - including Roland - this got my goat even more than it might have. Anyway, aside from that demonisation, I did really enjoy Danton. Lawday gives a good running explanation of the Revolution such that I didn't get lost trying to figure out what else was going on at the time, and he does well at portraying Danton as intimately involved in most of the important events. Some of this may be exaggeration, but not all of it. It's largely well written, although I'm not sure that I agree with The Economist that it's "beautifully told". It's eminently readable, anyway, and captures the energy and urgency of the Revolution. I think this would be exceptionally good way in to the Revolution for someone with little knowledge of the events, but with a curiosity about people who shape events.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alison Hardtmann

    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a rip-roaring adventure novel written so beautifully that a painful conflict ensues; the need to read faster and faster to discover what will happen next and the desire to go slowly and linger over the words. The book starts with a dramatic and dangerous birth, moves quickly to a contentious arrest and continues in the same head-long rush. Set on the tiny Dutch trading colony island of Dejima, outside of Nagasaki, Japan at the beginning of the nineteenth The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a rip-roaring adventure novel written so beautifully that a painful conflict ensues; the need to read faster and faster to discover what will happen next and the desire to go slowly and linger over the words. The book starts with a dramatic and dangerous birth, moves quickly to a contentious arrest and continues in the same head-long rush. Set on the tiny Dutch trading colony island of Dejima, outside of Nagasaki, Japan at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the book tells the story of Jacob de Zoet, a young man come to gain his fortune so he can marry back home. He's a man of quiet principle, but quickly finds that it's not always easy to determine the right action to take and he makes as many enemies as friends in his first months on Dejima. I don't want to give anything away, except to say that as soon as I thought I knew what was going on and settled happily down to enjoy it, the plot would twist away in another direction. The language is exquisite, with perfect phrases like lip-chewed debtors rich in excuses or anger and self-pity are lodged in his throat like fishbones. Finally, the story is set in such a beautifully rich time and place, Mitchell clearly has researched extensively, but the knowledge feels natural. I was disappointed to turn the final page and find that the book has ended.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a well written volume outlining the brief life of one of the leaders of the French Revolution, George-Jacques Danton, a person large of size and large in his love of life. His misshapen face and outsized voice are tools in Lawday's analysis of the man. A couple caveats: I am not normally well disposed to adducing thoughts to historical figures, but it seems to work fairly well in this book; there is some hyperbole here and there (could Danton's voice really travel as far as alleged?). Non This is a well written volume outlining the brief life of one of the leaders of the French Revolution, George-Jacques Danton, a person large of size and large in his love of life. His misshapen face and outsized voice are tools in Lawday's analysis of the man. A couple caveats: I am not normally well disposed to adducing thoughts to historical figures, but it seems to work fairly well in this book; there is some hyperbole here and there (could Danton's voice really travel as far as alleged?). Nonetheless, the book is a good read, introduces us to key figures in the French Revolution, and outlines why the Revolution went off the tracks to consume so many of its own--including Danton himself. Thus, despite some questions that I might have, this is a useful volume for those who are curious about the figure of Danton and those around him.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Robinson

    The French Revolution is quite an interesting and insane period of time. Danton was in the center of the Revolution from the very start, from the inside Courts of the Royals to the end with his execution. Egging on the Revolutionists and seemingly indifferent to the amount of bloodshed, even his own, he created the mechanism for terror that others took over and put into overdrive. How France survived this period is beyond me-they were executing leaders of the Royals, the leaders of the initial r The French Revolution is quite an interesting and insane period of time. Danton was in the center of the Revolution from the very start, from the inside Courts of the Royals to the end with his execution. Egging on the Revolutionists and seemingly indifferent to the amount of bloodshed, even his own, he created the mechanism for terror that others took over and put into overdrive. How France survived this period is beyond me-they were executing leaders of the Royals, the leaders of the initial revolution and then leaders of the second and third rounds. They turned on themselves on a daily basis and Danton, one of the main leaders, was indifferent until the last few months when he tried to stop the bloodshed. This change marked him for death and that is what occurred.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Insightful account of the makings of the French Revolution. I'm not sure how the author found the personal accounts and emotions that make up this book. But It definitely gave me a deeper understanding of the French Revolution and the people involved. Insightful account of the makings of the French Revolution. I'm not sure how the author found the personal accounts and emotions that make up this book. But It definitely gave me a deeper understanding of the French Revolution and the people involved.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Woodman

    Reasonable biography.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Zach Vaughn

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elias

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brian McArthur

  17. 4 out of 5

    Reinet

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Liesse

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eric Vanhove

  20. 5 out of 5

    Victor

  21. 4 out of 5

    Phil Cope

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zanamuhamad

  23. 4 out of 5

    LOIS CASSIDY

  24. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Sudduth

  26. 5 out of 5

    Justin Jacobson

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kara Annett

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emilee Woods

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jaro

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brant

  31. 5 out of 5

    BeverleysReads

  32. 5 out of 5

    Janelle V. Dvorak

  33. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Stark

  34. 5 out of 5

    Gali London

  35. 4 out of 5

    Jaro

  36. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Marshall

  37. 5 out of 5

    Robert Owen

  38. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

  39. 4 out of 5

    David Monroe

  40. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  41. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

  42. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

  43. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Fredrickson

  44. 4 out of 5

    Greg Pinkston

  45. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  46. 5 out of 5

    Gary R.

  47. 4 out of 5

    Darryl

  48. 4 out of 5

    Michael Malice

  49. 5 out of 5

    Shane

  50. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

  51. 4 out of 5

    Eric Genrich

  52. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

  53. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  54. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Trotter

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