The Revolutionary Temper: Paris, 1748-1789 (Hardcover)
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A groundbreaking account of the coming of the French Revolution from a historian of worldwide acclaim.
When a Parisian crowd stormed the Bastille in July 1789, it triggered an event of global consequence: the overthrow of the monarchy and the birth of a new society. Most historians account for the French Revolution by viewing it in retrospect as the outcome of underlying conditions such as a faltering economy, social tensions, or the influence of Enlightenment thought. But what did Parisians themselves think they were doing—how did they understand their world? What were the motivations and aspirations that guided their actions? In this dazzling history, Robert Darnton addresses these questions by drawing on decades of close study to conjure a past as vivid as today’s news. He explores eighteenth-century Paris as an information society much like our own, its news circuits centered in cafés, on park benches, and under the Palais-Royal’s Tree of Cracow. Through pamphlets, gossip, underground newsletters, and public performances, the events of some forty years—from disastrous treaties, official corruption, and royal debauchery to thrilling hot-air balloon ascents and new understandings of the nation—all entered the churning collective consciousness of ordinary Parisians. As public trust in royal authority eroded and new horizons opened for them, Parisians prepared themselves for revolution.
Darnton’s authority and sure judgment enable readers to confidently navigate the passions and complexities of controversies over court politics, Church doctrine, and the economy. And his compact, luminous prose creates an immersive reading experience. Here is a riveting narrative that succeeds in making the past a living presence.
— New York Times Book Review
What did Parisians think and gossip, sing and obsess about over the decades before the storming of the Bastille? In The Revolutionary Temper, Robert Darnton paints a sumptuous mural of the eighteenth-century mind. With the Encyclopédie, with manned balloons in the air, reason seemed on a roll. With posters, pamphlets, and public readings, the written word appeared supreme. A few vicious libels, some stock market manipulation, a lurid adultery trial, one notorious diamond necklace, any number of court intrigues, skyrocketing bread prices, and plunging temperatures combined, among other elements, to shake a nation to its core. A rich, beautifully crafted book that plants the reader in a Paris that feels at all times electric.
— Stacy Schiff, author of The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams
Standing at the summit of Robert Darnton’s towering intellectual career, The Revolutionary Temper plunges the reader into the coffee shops, workrooms, and alleys of pre-revolutionary Paris. Following the traces of songs and rumors, insults and discontent, Darnton allows us to eavesdrop, almost miraculously, on whispers nearly two and a half centuries old. Here is the hive mind of ordinary people in extraordinary times, as they shake loose the thought and feeling of ages past, and decide—slowly, and then all at once—to begin the world anew.
— Jane Kamensky, author of A Revolution in Color
A page-turner on the 40 years before the fall of the Bastille.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Darnton’s panoramic vision is rendered in lucid and vigorous prose, with a consistent focus on the day-to-day communications and emotions of regular people. It’s an enthralling exploration of the psychology of political change.
— Publishers Weekly