David A. Bell is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the History Department at Princeton. His book Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolutions has just been published.
 (September 2020)


The Duchess & the Jews

An engraving of the capture of the Duchesse de Berry at Nantes, 1832

The Betrayal of the Duchess: The Scandal That Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern

by Maurice Samuels
Two very different stories can be told about the Jews in modern France. The first is one of liberation and opportunity. It begins with the granting of full civil rights to French Jews during the revolution of 1789, after centuries in which the small number who had the right to …

Did Britain Win the American Revolution?

John Trumbull: The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar, 1789

To Begin the World Over Again: How the American Revolution Devastated the Globe

by Matthew Lockwood
In the late eighteenth century, few places in the world were more remote from Europe than Vancouver Island. The closest major European outpost lay nearly a thousand miles to the south, in Spanish California. Traveling to Europe took at least six months, in wind-powered ships making a wearying, dangerous voyage …

The Contagious Revolution

Alexandre Grégoire: Toussaint Louverture Boarding, late twentieth century

The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution

by Julius S. Scott, with a foreword by Marcus Rediker

Maroon Nation: A History of Revolutionary Haiti

by Johnhenry Gonzalez
For a long time, European and North American historians paid little attention to the extraordinary series of events that now goes by the name of the Haitian Revolution. In their view, revolutions in this period involved Western, middle-class revolutionaries overthrowing aristocratic elites and establishing democratic institutions while paving the way for industrial capitalism. Haiti clearly did not fit this model, and it did not help that stories of “savage” Haitian blacks slaughtering innocent white colonists remained distressingly influential many decades into the twentieth century. Over the past generation, however, the old model of revolution has lost its appeal, while historians have become better attuned both to currents of global history and to “subaltern” voices.

From Readers to Revolutionaries

Léonard Defrance de Liège: The Shield of Minerva, 1781. The painting was inspired by the Austrian emperor Joseph II’s 1781 edict of religious tolerance. Announcements of works by Enlightenment philosophers are posted on the walls of the bookstore, while the bundles of books stacked outside for shipment to other countries signify the free diffusion of ideas.

A Literary Tour de France: The World of Books on the Eve of the French Revolution

by Robert Darnton
In 1789 and for long afterward, in France and elsewhere, a single word often sufficed to explain the origins of the French Revolution: books. Just days after the fall of the Bastille, the radical journalist and politician Bertrand Barère wrote, “Books did it all. Books created opinion, books brought enlightenment …

The Many Lives of Liberalism

Eugène Delacroix: Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Can Democracy Work?: A Short History of a Radical Idea, from Ancient Athens to Our World

by James Miller

The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century

by Helena Rosenblatt
While the collapse of communism did not bring history to an end, it did, briefly, seem to establish a worldwide consensus of sorts. Had one particular social and political system, by dint of hard experience, proven superior to all its rivals? Apparently yes. That system was what could be called the liberal ideal, constructed around representative democracy, human rights, and free-market capitalism complemented by a strong social safety net. That consensus seemed to hold even after the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia and the September 11 attacks. Now, however, it is fracturing.

‘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 …