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The Great Nation


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France in 1715 - the king's leg and the choreography of power; negotiating stormy weather - the Regency and the advent of Fleury (1715-26); Fleury's France (1726-43); unsuspected golden years (1743-56); an enlightening age; forestalling deluge (1756-70); the triumvirate and its aftermath (1771-84); Bourbon monarchy on the rack (1784-8); revolution in political culture (1789-91); war and terror (1791-5); the unsteady republic (1795-9). (Part contents)

About the Author

Colin Jones is Professor of History at the University of Warwick and is now writing PARIS: A HISTORY for Allen Lane.


This eminently readable political history of 18th-century France aims to revise the traditional interpretation of the ancien regime. British historian Jones defiantly eschews this term, arguing that historians' preoccupation with the revolution has caused them to ignore the real vitality and achievements of France from 1715 to the revolution. The 18th century, he reminds us, was France's century, and he attempts a comprehensive look at the period, emphasizing its strengths and continuities. At the time, France was a modern state, not a state in decline. The nobility was engaging more and more in the economic life of the nation; improved communication aided trade, industry, and agriculture; and foreign and colonial trade increased dramatically. Jones gives the Enlightenment similar continuity, arguing that the language of opposition and criticism that emerged after 1750 drew upon a tradition of discourse that in some cases predated 1715. Recapturing the "joy and fear" engendered by the onset of the revolution, Jones allows us to see the period as contemporaries did. An important work that should be welcomed by scholars and specialists, this is recommended for academic collections.-Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"The fullest and most reliable history we have of eighteenth-century France." --William Doyle, Independent"This is a work that merits the French designation magistral: masterly and authoritative." --Robin Buss, Financial Times

Historian Jones (The Cambridge Illustrated History of France) has written an exhaustive account of 18th-century France, emphasizing political and economic history. He paints a portrait of a nation opposed to Bourbon absolutism throughout the century, not just at the time of the Revolution. Beginning in the waning years of Louis XIV, philosophers, Jansenists, taxpayers and especially the Paris Parlement, which saw itself as the defender of fundamental law, all criticized the Bourbon regime, pointing to its unwise, revenue-draining wars; persecution of religious dissidents; and ruling in a manner unresponsive to the public will. As Jones convincingly points out, the French Enlightenment changed everything, bringing to the fore a concept of "popular opinion" that would lead the French to believe they had a voice in how their nation was governed. Increasingly after 1750, public opinion became a powerful antiabsolutist influence. Jones devotes an excellent chapter to the Encyclopedie, which he says symbolized a crucial change in French culture and politics. Jones also details the intricate politics of the century, explaining how the monarchs' principal ministers attempted to prop up Bourbon authority and revenues. On the Revolution, Jones is first-rate, especially in depicting the bloody factional feuding between the Jacobins and Girondins. He finishes his book with the Directory and the 1799 coup of Napoleon Bonaparte. This is an outstanding book for academics and students looking for a one-volume overview of the century, but perhaps too dense for the general readers other than those devoted to French history. Two maps. (Mar.)

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