David A. Bell is Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the Era of North Atlantic Revolutions at Princeton. He is the author, most recently, of The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Making of Warfare as We Know It.
 (July 2014)

A Very Different French Revolution

‘The Tennis Court Oath, 1789’; oil sketch by Jacques-Louis David
Did a secret society bring about the French Revolution? In the classic fictional version of this widely believed conspiracy theory, Alexandre Dumas’s novel Joseph Balsamo, a Masonic society known as the Illuminati gather in a ruined castle in 1770 and plot the overthrow of the French monarchy. Their leader, called …