The Best Books on the French Revolution of 2021

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Are you looking to improve your knowledge of the French Revolution? Is your teacher preparing their guillotine if you fail the next exam? There’s no need to worry! This guide will help you find the best books on the French Revolution for you!

The French Revolution is more than just liberté, égalité, fraternité. The Revolution was about a vast array of complex problems within eighteenth-century France. Conflicts between the estates cascaded into more significant issues, ones that cost the lives of thousands of French men, women, and even children.

Admittedly, The French Revolution is a tough subject. Its impact affected much of the world, from the ideas originating from the Revolution to the aftermath.

Luckily, we have a comprehensive reading list to guide you through your studies. Whether you are looking for an introduction into French history or supplemental textbooks, we have found the right book on French history.

Our Top Favorite
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Our Top Runner Up
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
Our Top Value Pick
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
Book Title
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Favorite
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Book Title
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
Book Title
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
Book Title
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
Prime Eligible?

Last update: 2021-08-31

Our Favorite Books on the French Revolution

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution is the most important book you could read to begin learning about the French Revolution. The first edition was written over thirty years ago, but still is considered the gold standard for Francophiles and has later since come out with other updated editions. This encyclopedic tome discusses social and cultural factors that led to the Revolution. It is perhaps the best book on French history!

What Makes it Unique?

  • Schama uses a style that makes his book easily accessible to readers. At times it feels like it winds around different concepts like the various estates or events like the Tennis Court Oath, but he always comes back around.  Think of him as a teacher who gets occasionally sidetracked.
  • When Schama brings significant characters into the narrative, he gives them context by giving them a small biography. These biographies help you familiarize yourself with the principal characters within the French Revolution.

Why Choose this French Revolution Book:

  • When we say this book is an encyclopedia-like tome, you better believe us! It narrowly misses a thousand pages. However, this is a plus because it covers a breadth of information, allowing Schama to dive deep into the context of the Revolution.
  • The large page count sounds intimidating but the text is very readable. Admittedly, Schama may give too much context into a key figure or event. If this is your first exposure to the Estates-General, King Louis XVI, Robespierre, or the different factions that arose, this book is invaluable to growing your knowledge about them.
  • While Schama’s account of the Revolution is comprehensive in scope, it does tend to skew towards a conservative view. This means that Schama gives more weight towards the anti-revolutionaries, people for the status quo! If you read Schama’s account, you’ll want to balance it out by reading other French Revolution textbooks written by historians with opposing perspectives.
On Sale
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
  • Paperback
  • Simon Schama
  • Schama, Simon (Author)

Last update: 2021-08-31


The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by William Doyle

The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction is a part of a series of short introductions that give a concise overview of different areas within the humanities. William Doyle is an expert in eighteenth-century France and has authored numerous books on the topic, which is why he’s featured twice on this list. This very short introduction is a perfect book for those looking for quick context and expert analysis in a short book.

What Makes it Unique?

  • This book is concerned with providing concise information on the economic, ideological, and political origins of the Revolution as well as the primary causes of the revolt of the Third Estate. What makes it unique is how well worded it can be. You’ll want to read slowly and might have to Google some of the words, but that’s the cost when looking at the book through various historical lenses, such as a Marxist lens.
  • This book has an excellent bibliography with a plethora of different primary and secondary source suggestions.

Why Choose the French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction?

  • The title doesn’t lie when it calls itself a “Very Short Introduction.” The book has little over a hundred pages so that it can read quickly. However, do not forget it can be dense at times. You may not need to be studying history to grasp this book, but it helps.
  • The brevity of The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction is excellent, but it leaves out crucial historical context other texts provide. This book should not be your first read into the history of France or its Revolution!
  • This book is relatively cheap when compared to other books about the French Revolution. If you’re on a budget and need another book to supplement other French history books, look no further!
The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction
  • Doyle, William (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 152 Pages - 12/06/2001 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Our Runners up for the Best Books on the French Revolution.

The Oxford History of the French Revolution by William Doyle

The Oxford History of the French Revolution is like a textbook but with a better narrative flow. It is a standard text in French history. It covers a large swath of history surrounding the French Revolution, from how life was under King Louis XVI, how life was during the reign of terror, and how life was like after the Revolution. This French Revolution textbook covers many types of history as well: political, economic, even geographical.

What Makes it Unique?

  • Doyle focuses on the hard facts of the Revolution.  He doesn’t let speculation play a significant role in the narrative. However, you could start to become drowsy at times from all the facts that droll on.
  • The Oxford History of the French Revolution explains how the Reign of Terror led to Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power.  The conquests that came after was a result of a people who’ve had their world broken and rebuilt in under two decades.  Doyle does a good job of explaining the years prior to and after the Revolution.
  • Like his other book, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, this book has an excellent bibliography filled with other sources you can use.

Why Choose this French Revolution Book:

  • This book is like Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, it is a good introduction. You may want to choose this book if you are beginning your research into this period of French history.
  • This book does have a few editions, and some of the more recent ones have more recent scholarly sources but come at the cost of clarity. Upon reading some sections, paragraphs were scrambled and had too many ideas packed into them. These problems were few and still made for a good read!
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
  • Doyle, William (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 512 Pages - 09/05/2018 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny by Ian Davidson

The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny gives an account of the French Revolution from the onset of the Revolution with the various estates to the execution of Robespierre. It discusses many of the major events between 1788 to 1795 but doesn’t devote much time to pre- or post-revolutionary France.

What Makes it Unique?

  • The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny is written for history enthusiasts. There isn’t as much jargon found in this book compared to others on this list, and it is easy to follow Davidson’s narrative of The Revolution.
  • Davidson compares the French Revolution to the American, which provides valuable insight into the nature of revolutions in general.
  • We find the simplicity and flowing nature of the book comes at the cost of complexity.

Why Choose this French Revolution Book:

  • This book is for those who want to focus strictly on the years of the Revolution.
  • While this book reads well, you’ll need more information to make connections and understand what he says. He, at times, seems biased in favor of the revolutionaries, almost downplaying the violence the Reign of Terror produced.
On Sale
The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Ian Davidson (Author) - Clive Chafer (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Our Value-picks for the Best Books on the French Revolution

The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War by Graham Robb

The Discovery of France is a story about a man traversing the French countryside. In a story-like tone, Robb discusses the history of France by visiting different villages and describing how life was like in the nineteenth century to the present. He covers a lot of ground, touching pre-Revolution France to modern-day.

What Makes it Unique?

  • Robb’s ability to weave the details about French history into a digestible book is excellent. He makes the mundane life of a French peasant sound pleasing, who knew that peasants would get together every week to bake bread?
  • The book focuses on the people of France, not any single region or monolithic figures, like Paris or King Louis XVI.
  • Robb provides a wealth of knowledge about France throughout the years with little analysis to go along with it. At times it seems to veer from a geographic history to a people’s history.

Why Choose this French Revolution Book:

  • The Discovery of France is a good book for those looking for a study of French people and customs.
  • The book covers from around 1750 to 1914. Meaning Robb spends some time on the Revolution and many other events. If your primary concern is the French Revolution, you may hold off on purchasing this book.
On Sale
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
  • Hardcover Book
  • Robb, Graham (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-08-31


A Concise History of France by Roger Price

A Concise History of France is for those who already have some knowledge of France through the ages. Price starts in the middle ages and discusses how France became the nation it is today. He trades a flowing narrative for one that is slower, but more factually dense. It can seem dull at times.

What Makes it Unique?

  • A Concise History of France focuses primarily on politics, economics, and societal development of France.
  • Price does tend to neglect culturally essential pieces of history, briefly touching subjects related to the arts and literature.
  • At times the book loses the concision it promises, leaving some readers confused.

Why Choose this French Revolution Book:

  • It can be a difficult read for some, more intermediate knowledge of France is required.
  • This book starts in the Middle Ages and ends in modern times. It gives a good overview of French history, so it’s good supplemental reading to your list.
  • This book is useful if you like an academic style.
On Sale
A Concise History of France (Cambridge Concise Histories)
  • Price, Roger (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 530 Pages - 03/24/2014 (Publication Date) - Cambridge University Press (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


How to Pick the Best Books on the French Revolution for You

Choosing the right book on the French Revolution can be overwhelming. Whatever your historical knowledge, there is no doubt history is a complex mistress. You need to consider the people who lived back then, the political landscape of their surroundings, and a plethora of other things too.

It begs the question of what French Revolution textbook should you read? What is the best book on French history?

While there is no clear answer, this section of the guide will ask some probing questions to get you closer to the book calling your name!

What Interests You About the French Revolution?

Why do you want to know more about the French Revolution? Is it the political philosophy that developed during that time or came out of it? Is it the societal shift that gave rise to a nationalistic backing of Napoleon Bonaparte and the subsequent conquest towards Russia that sparks your interest?

Answering these questions can help you find an expert in that specific area of history and the books they’ve written. Make sure to check out the best books on Napoleonic Wars here.

How Much Do You Know About France and The Period Surrounding the Revolution?

If you already know about the French Revolution, you can skip the introductory books. You’ll want to read books that dive into specific subjects.

If you have little knowledge of France’s history, look at Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. This book is comprehensive and will give you valuable insight into this foundational period in French history.

What Kind of Source Material Are You Looking For?

There are two main sources for historians, primary and secondary.

Primary sources are materials that come out of a period by those who experienced it. These materials are what historians use to turn into secondary sources.

Some primary source authors to check out are Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, while both are not French, they both provide valuable perspectives to the Revolution. Alexis de Tocqueville was born after the Revolution but is invaluable to historians today. He wrote The Old Regime and Revolution; its account of the Revolution holds a candle to none of that time.

You shouldn’t discount works of fiction about the French Revolution. They can be an excellent supplement to your French Revolution textbook.

Fiction is lovely because it can get your mind into a character that is experiencing the events of the Revolution.

Here’s a brief list of good works of fiction:

1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

3. The Scarlet Pimpernel series by Emma Orczy

4. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Wrapping the Best Books on the French Revolution

Here’s a summary of the best books on the French Revolution we have reviewed:

Our Top Favorite
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Our Top Runner Up
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
Our Top Value Pick
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
Book Title
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Favorite
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Book Title
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
Book Title
The Oxford History of the French Revolution
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
Book Title
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War
Prime Eligible?

Last update: 2021-08-31

No matter your level of expertise on the French Revolution, this list has got you covered.

If you’re looking the best book on the French Revolution, check out our favorite Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama. His research is readable and teeming with information.

If you like to dabble in history, we suggest Ian Davidson’s The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny. His book is enjoyable, and we think it’s a good read for whatever reason you want to learn about French history.

However, it is ultimately up to you what book to read. You must ask yourself:

“Why do I want to learn about this moment in history?” “What approach should I take when studying the French Revolution?”

If you enjoyed this post, check out our other history book reviews here.

Here are some other history textbook guides that may interest you:

> The Best AP French Language and Culture Review Books

> The Best French Textbooks

> The Best AP Spanish Language and Culture Review Books

> The Best Spanish Textbooks

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