David A. Bell is Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the Era of North Atlantic Revolutions at Princeton. His recent books include Shadows of Revolution: Reflections on France, Past and Present and, with Anthony Grafton, The West: A New History. (June 2018)

IN THE REVIEW

‘Pity Is Treason’

The execution of Maximilien Robespierre in Paris on July 28, 1794

A Genealogy of Terror in Eighteenth-Century France

by Ronald Schechter
It is clearly impossible to identify a birthdate for terrorism. There are vociferous disagreements about its definition, and even more vociferous arguments about which actions actually count as terrorism. As the old saying goes, your evil terrorist is my heroic freedom fighter. Were the bomb-throwing anarchists of late-nineteenth-century Europe terrorists? …

A Very Different French Revolution

‘The Tennis Court Oath, 1789’; oil sketch by Jacques-Louis David

Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre

by Jonathan Israel
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 …