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Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life.

Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life. Peter McPhee. Yale University Press. [pounds sterling]25.00. xx + 299 pages. ISBN 978-0-300I 1711-7. The aim of this new biography is to take a fresh look at the man whose name is most often associated with the horrors of the Terror and the establishment of the short-lived first French Republic. The French Revolution and its attendant atrocities contained all the elements of the revolutions that followed: grand statements followed by regimes which of necessity had (and have) always to be more repressive and stronger than the ones they replace, from Paris to Cambodia and from Petrograd to Tehran. But what of Robespierre? Was he the cold-blooded prototype of Lenin and Pot Pot or the strong-willed Cromwell who only killed out of national interest? The answer, Prof. McPhee argues in this incisive study, lies in the years between his birth in 1758 and 1789 although he wisely avoids over-interpreting his childhood with post-facto psychological analysis. He also navigates deftly among the half-truths, legends and attacks made on him during the Revolution and afterwards. Robe-spierre's actions before and during his membership of the Committee of Public Safety are always related to the actions of other major players, thereby shedding new light on these terrible years. Most important of all he shows that Robespierre was human--'a passionate man', not 'the emotionally stunted, rigidly puritanical and icily cruel monster of history'. To Prof. McPhee the Revolution's achievements were 'enormous' and pari passu so were the achievements of Maximilien Robespierre. The jury will always be out on this case but we have here a new portrait of a man and an era that resonate, and will continue to resonate, for centuries to come. (M.J.A.)
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Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Brief article
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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