When the world turned upside down takes up the challenge of offering a synthesis of the French Revolution and its recent historiography in less than three hundred pages. It will be useful to students unfamiliar with these events, but also to the curious, eager to learn more about this crucial period, which a more voluminous work might nevertheless be likely to put off.
An effective synthesis of the Revolution
Olivier Coquard is a personality well known to the former literary prep students of Lycée Henri-IV. This book therefore benefits from all its experience of teaching transmission to a high level of requirement. Thus, although short, this synthesis turns out to be extremely dense. It is accompanied by a rich chronology and a very useful bibliography with relevant comments.
In eight chapters, we sweep the entire period 1789-1799, from the Assembly of the States General to the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire.
From the introduction, the desire to present the Revolution as a plural reality is stated. In fact, we of course tackle the political, economic and social aspects, but the cultural questions are not forgotten. Likewise, gender perspectives are not ignored. While ambition is laudable and necessary, it makes the exercise all the more complex. Each episode is treated by mentioning the landmark works, the main historiographical trends, without forgetting the more recent questions. The other notable intention of Olivier Coquard is to place the Revolution in its time, or to make it an event that is part of the continuity of the Enlightenment, not to transform them into a matrix of totalitarianism - as the reactionary thought - but to avoid presenting the period as a clear break with the culture of the Ancien Régime, which would be caricatural. The various objectives are perfectly fulfilled, which makes this book a highly commendable summary of the Revolution.
Although the density of information presented can sometimes require a significant effort of concentration from the reader, the work offers a nuanced and informed overview of a major historical event which has often given rise to controversy.
Olivier Coquard, When the world rocked, New history of the French Revolution, Tallandier, 2015.