Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

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Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
File:Simon Schama, Citizens, cover.jpg
Author Simon Schama
Country United States
Language English
Genre History
Publisher Random House
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover)
ISBN 0-679-72610-1
OCLC 20454968
944.04 20
LC Class DC148 .S43 1990

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution is a book by the historian Simon Schama. It was published in 1989, the bicentenary of the French Revolution, and like many other works in that year, was highly critical of its legacy.[1] "The terror," declared Schama in the book, "was merely 1789 with a higher body count; violence ... was not just an unfortunate side effect ... it was the Revolution's source of collective energy. It was what made the Revolution revolutionary."[2] In short, “From the very beginning [...] violence was the motor of revolution.”[3] Schama considers that the French Revolutionary Wars were the logical corollary of the universalistic language of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and of the universalistic principles of the Revolution which led to inevitable conflict with old-regime Europe.


Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm has described the book as being "exceptionally stylish and eloquent" and "extremely well-read." Nevertheless, he considers Citizens to be, above all, a political denunciation of the revolution[4] and a continuation of a tradition in British literature and popular consciousness (established by the writings of Edmund Burke and Thomas Carlyle, reinforced by Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and promulgated in subsequent pop literature), which has defined the Revolution foremost by the Terror.[5] In Hobsbawm's view, Schama fails to see the positive aspects of the revolution and focuses solely on the horror and suffering, presenting them as gratuitous. Hobsbawm further criticizes the book, opining that "Schama is not involved as an expert in the field, for . . . the book does not set out to add to the knowledge already available. The author's choice of a narrative focused on particular people and incidents neatly sidesteps the problems of perspectives and generalization."[4]


  1. Doyle, William. The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press (2001), p. 105. "The bicentenary, in fact, released a torrent of vituperative publishing, most of it denouncing one aspect or another of the Revolution and its legacy."
  2. Doyle, p. 102.
  3. Schama, Simon. Citizens. Quoted in: Davies, Norman. Europe: A History. Pimlico (1997), p. 690.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hobsbawm, Eric. 1990 Echoes of the Marseillaise: two centuries look back on the French Revolution. P.97
  5. Hobsbawm, Eric. 1990. Echoes of the Marseillaise: two centuries look back on the French Revolution. P.5

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