ABOUT THIS BOOK
Two centuries later, the French Revolution—that extraordinary event that founded modern democracy—continues to give rise to a reevaluation of essential questions. The ambition of this magnificent volume is not only to present the reader with the research of a wide range of international scholars on those questions, but also to bring one into the heart of the issues still under lively debate.
Its form is as original as its goal: neither dictionary, in the traditional sense of the word, nor encyclopedia, it is deliberately limited to some ninety-nine entries organized alphabetically by key words and themes under five major headings: events, including the Estates General and the Terror; actors, such as Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Napoleon Bonaparte; institutions and creations, among them Revolutionary Calendar and Suffrage; ideas, covering, for example, Ancien Régime, the American Revolution, and Liberty; and historians and commentators, from Hegel to Tocqueville. In addition, there are synoptic indexes of names and themes that give the reader easy access to the entire volume as well as a key to its profound coherence.
What unifies all the varied topics brought together in this dictionary is their authors’ effort to be “critical.” As such, the book rejects the dogmatism of closed systems and definitive interpretations. Its aim is less to make a complete inventory of the findings of the history of the French Revolution than to take stock of what remains problematical about those findings; this work thus offers the additional special quality of incorporating the rich historiographical literature unceasingly elaborated since 1789.
With A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, François Furet and Mona Ozouf invite the reader to recross the first two centuries of French democracy in order to gain a better understanding of the origins of the world in which we live today.
It was a splendid idea to compile a critical dictionary of the French Revolution, and the idea has been splendidly executed… A great work.
-- Conor Cruise O'Brien New York Review of Books
A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution is really a manifesto representing the views of François Furet, who is now the most influential historian of the French Revolution in the world… Mr. Furet and his collaborators have revived interest in the philosophical problems of modern democracy and shown the importance of the French Revolution in establishing the limits of modern political debate.
-- Lynn Hunt New York Times Book Review
Not the least merit of Furet and Ozouf’s spectacular Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution is to take declared meaning at face value; to restore, in fact, full historical autonomy to the conflict of ideas. Those not within the guild of self-described ‘professional historians’ may be amazed to hear that such conflicts have ever not been taken seriously in their own right. But it may well have taken this monumental work…to reinstate their full causal power. In the Dictionary, in particular, the play of debate and its intersection with the combat of personalities and the shaping of institutions is given primary significance. The great moments of the French Revolution are rescued from compression into the social structure or burial beneath symbolic bricolage… No praise can really be too high for what this work represents: spectacular scholarship, consistently gripping writing, and intellectual penetration… [It] adds up to a coherent vision of the Revolution (all the more remarkable for being written by more than 20 hands). It is certainly the most enduring book to be published in the bicentennial year.
-- Simon Schama New Republic
In all respects, this Dictionary of more than a thousand pages is a monument of scholarship, and an object of elegant quality, served by original and suggestive illustrations and by a rare quality of writing.
-- Michelle Perrot Libération
A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution has already been hailed as the literary event of the bicentennial… This success has come from the originality of its format. In effect, the entire team of historians, led by François Furet and Mona Ozouf, has broken with the traditional forms: chronological narratives, monographs, biographies…in order to adopt a new style that reconciles these diverse approaches. The work is erudite but unfolds like a historical novel. It is enormous—a thousand pages—but reads like a magazine with ten-page articles illustrating the one hundred ‘key words’ of the Revolution.
-- Janick Jossin Le Nouvel Observateur
This Dictionary represents what I would judge to be one of the most comprehensive statements yet of the new historiography, against Annales; and in so doing, it represents what I would also judge to be one of the clearest interpretations of a renewal of liberal thinking in France which in its distinctiveness, its break from standing conceptions, will be of general interest to all but the most parochial of Anglo-Americans.
-- Geoffrey Hawthorn, Cambridge University
A spectacular collection of essays covering virtually every aspect of the French Revolution, written by the most powerful minds currently working on its history. As a whole, the book provides a stunning vindication of the centrality of politics to the lasting significance of the event. Some of the essays—Furet on Quinet, Higonnet on the Sans-culottes, Ozouf on Revolutionary Religion—are miniature masterpieces. The bicentennial is unlikely to produce any other work that serves up so rich and nourishing an intellectual feast.
-- Simon Schama, Harvard University