David A. Bell teaches history at Princeton and is currently the John and Constance Birkelund Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center. His recent books include Shadows of Revolution: Reflections on France, Past and Present and, with Anthony Grafton, The West: A New History.
 (January 2019)


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 …