Origins of the French Revolution

Origins of the French Revolution

Origins of the French Revolution

Origins of the French Revolution


First published in 1980, this book rapidly established itself as the indispensable guide to what brought about the French Revolution, and to the debates of historians about the issue. The new edition brings the subject up to date with an extensively rewritten survey of the historiography up to the present day, and a revised interpretation modified in the light of research by a new generation of scholars. It will thus remain the starting point for any serious study of the greatest of all revolutions.


Half a generation of students have helped me to clarify my ideas about this subject -- in so far as I have. Colleagues and friends too numerous to mention have also played their part. I am particularly grateful to Norman Hampson, who has read through the whole text with characteristic care and critical detachment, offering countless suggestions for its improvement. Ted Royle was also kind enough to read a crucial chapter and give me his comments at a very busy time. Christine, as always, was relentless in her criticism and unstinting in her help.

September 1979 W.D.


When a second edition of this book appeared eight years after the first, I did not feel the need to alter much of what I had previously said. Although scholarly perception of the subject had evolved, changes still seemed to have been incremental rather than fundamental. But in fact, a major shift had already begun to occur. 'Revisionism', it turned out, had largely run its course. What would soon be known as Post-Revisionism had begun to appropriate the agenda; and the outburst of new writing which marked the bicentenary of the Revolution in 1989 inaugurated the triumph of this approach. In the ten years since, it has achieved a hegemony not unlike that of the orthodoxies from whose ruins it sprouted; and books like this have become part of the scholarly history they once sought to chronicle, appraise, and incorporate.

Yet, on a subject whose centrality to the course of modern history has been emphasized if anything more than ever by post-revisionists, the value of taking regular stock remains undiminished. This, and the urgings of friends and colleagues whose views I respect, has at length . . .

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