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Publisher's Summary

The 25 years between the onset of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Bourbon Restoration after Napoleon in 1814 is an astonishing period in world history. This era shook the foundations of the old world and marked a permanent shift for politics, religion, and society - not just for France, but for all of Europe. An account of the events alone reads like something out of a thrilling novel:

  • France’s oppressed and hungry masses rise up against their government.
  • In Paris, crowds storm the Bastille looking for bread and weaponry.
  • Rumors, panic, and fear grip the nation as it faces an uncertain future.
  • The National Assembly adopts the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the first bold step toward the invention of democratic politics and a republican state.
  • A young Corsican named Napoleon Bonaparte stuns Europe with his military strategy and political boldness.

Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon is your opportunity to learn the full story of this captivating period. Taught by Dr. Suzanne M. Desan, these 48 exciting lectures give you a broad and comprehensive survey of one of the most important eras in modern history.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2013 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2013 The Great Courses

What listeners say about Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Clarity leaves me feeling informed

Professor Desan knows how to give a half hour history class well. She goes from detail to breadth. She identifies themes and explores them. She links them together well. Her style is steady, clear and u dramatic even when dealing with such dramatic subject matter. She lets the primary sources do that work and occasionally introduces humour or a personal touch. Clearly Prof Desan knows much more in greater depth than is presented here. I thoroughly recommend this series for those like me, who know so little when starting the series.

1 person found this helpful

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Vivid communication

As a recipient of the English retelling of the “crazy” French Revolution and the rise of the “Corsican Monster”, I was fascinated by this vivid view of the sociopolitical currents involved. Great presentation of an extraordinary historical period.

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Thrilling & Excellent

I am a Great Courses addict but wasn't excited by the French Revolution initially. However Desan's depth of knowledge and capacity for narrative makes this one of the very best. Must listen.

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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 21-11-2016

Wish I could've given this course 6 stars

Would you consider the audio edition of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon to be better than the print version?

I've never said this before about any other course but I would've given this course 6 stars if possible. Breath-takingly well done from start to finish.

I went back and forth on whether I wanted to purchase this course for a loooong time. I had some other courses on Western Civilization and European history and wasn't sure if their coverage of the French Revolution and Napoleon would be sufficient enough to satisfy my knowledge hunger needs. Plus the length of this course caused me to shy away: 48 lecture courses or longer always scare me just because I find myself with a short attention span and zone out the longer the course.

But something kept drawing me back to this course and the intrigue of these monumental historical events. I finally gave in and I am very disappointed in myself for having waited so long.

This course was just spectacular and stunningly fascinating on so many levels.

The professor does an excellent job of “setting the scene” and “telling the story” of key events. She knows how to paint a picture and describe the atmosphere of certain events in such a way that makes you feel like you were there yourself (i.e the Estates-General meeting).

She kept my interest throughout the course and throughout each lecture because she spent just enough time on each topic, never leaving me with the feeling that something was being dragged out. This is one of those few courses that will leave you wanting more. In fact in one of the latter lectures she explained the different forms of government France took during 1815-1940 and she made the comment "Don't worry I won't be covering all of that time" and I found myself cursing my iPhone: YES, I want nothing more than to hear her continue! I would be the first to buy a new course from her on French history.

She provided excellent narration of historical events surrounding France from 1789-1814 including a great description of the transition between different phases of the revolution including:
o Abolishment of feudalism and granting of rights to the citizens
o Creation of a constitutional monarchy with the creation of the Deputies (legislative branch)
o Creation of a left-leaning Republic with the elimination of the monarchy
o International war with European powers: first with the Austrian empire (from the north via Belgium) and Prussia & parts of Italy (from the east) and then Spain (from the south) and Great Britain (from the west)
o Counter revolution civil war (royalists)
o Intra revolution struggles including those believing in a strong centralized Republic and those in favor of local power
o The Terror in which the revolutionists executed thousands of political enemies under the accusation that they were “conspiracists”
o The Directory (moderate Republic) in which an executive branch of five individuals and a two-house legislative branch were introduced
o The setting up of “sister Republics” in the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Italy
o Napoleon’s coup which overthrew the Directory and established the Consulate (three counsuls with Napoleon as First Consul with strong authoritative power)
o Napoleon crowning himself as Emperor
o After Austria and Prussia surrendered and after a victory over the Russians resulted in a peace treaty in which France and Russia both recognized the other's empire, Napoleon built an empire stretching throughout continental Europe including German lands, parts of Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Poland
o Restoration of the monarchy (Louis XVIII) after the allies (led by Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain) occupied Paris and Napoleon was banished
o Napoleon's escape and return to power as a constitutional emperor forcing Louis XVIII to flee
o Louis XVIII’s restoration of the throne following Napoleon's abdication after his defeat at Waterloo


I usually like to call out at least 1-2 negatives of a course but I really got a headache wracking my brain trying to think of one for this course. The only remote thing I could come up with: On very rare occasions the Professor would try to imitate the voice of one of the characters she was discussing or the big bad wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood tale and it just didn’t work. But this is the definition of nit-picking. She did a stellar job and I learned so much from this course.

If you have any interest whatsoever in the French Revolution, Napoleon, or the major revolutionary wars you will hate yourself for not purchasing this course. Take it from someone who hemmed and hawed for so long before finally deciding to give it a chance. There are few guarantees but I feel safe this one time in guaranteeing your satisfaction.

46 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 20-11-2019

Justifies and minimizes the crimes of the Terror.

The good Professor Desan is an undoubtably qualified scholar, but her political biases show vividly in this course. Revolutionary lies and conspiracy theories are bandied about with gusto and presented as fact.
She does everything in her power to downplay the cruelty and evil of the Terror.
Her political sympathies blind her to the results of the revolution and it shows.

She does an admirable job otherwise.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Scott
  • 16-01-2014

Very educational

A most interesting and educational audiobook. I'm glad I bought it, and glad I listened to it.
Three negatives, however. One, professor Desan's reading is a bit stressed, and it gets wearing by the end of the lecture series. Two, the lectures are not in strict chronological order, so it's frequently difficult to tell what year is being discussed. To be fair, however, the lectures are organized by topic, which is why this is true, but she rarely re-references the year, so it's often difficult to figure out what year it is. Three, the lectures come across as somehow impersonal, so although there are frequent discussions about people's attitudes and difficulties, I didn't come away with a vibrant visualization of these.
At the end of the day, this is a good overview of a complex and important part of world history, and Professor Desan's wrap-up and discussion of the repercussions and influence of the French Revolution is excellent.
Finally, if you want to listen to it, buy some credits and get it at discount.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Monte Johnston
  • 17-09-2013

Such a great balance of the big picture and detail

Any additional comments?

This was a marvelous course. Professor Desan has clearly mastered her subject and so her organization and presentation of the material was nothing short of brilliant. She provides an overview of the forces at work during this historical period and illustrates them with wonderful particulars - songs, quotes, diary entries, letters, etc. She gives you a sense of what it felt like to be alive during each of the stages of the Revolution.

I recommend this with no reservations.

24 people found this helpful

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  • Martin Lefebvre
  • 12-08-2013

Mostly French Revolution

Whilst the course is about the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon, it's primary focus is on the French Revolution. That being said, whilst I'm a fan of Napoleon, this is a bit more hostile towards Napoleon than Napoleon podcast by J David Markham and Cameron Reilly, it's more friendly towards the Revolutionaries.

Overall, this is a great overview of the French Revolution.

30 people found this helpful

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  • Matt
  • 03-08-2018

History from a certain point of view

Rather than trying to limit her own biases, the author seems to revel in them. Lots of rationalizing for The Terror and lots of glossing over the obvious parts of it that have made it pretty much inexcusable to history. Almost completely leaves out the mass drownings of the "Revolutionary Baptisms" and doesn't even mention the more sadistic parts of The Terror (such as the truly awful "Revolutionary Marriages"). One could easily imagine the author defending the secret police and purges of Lenin and Stalin.

19 people found this helpful

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  • Alison
  • 23-08-2013

Stunning!

If you could sum up Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon in three words, what would they be?

Memorable, entertaining tale

What was one of the most memorable moments of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon?

Suzanne Desan picks her examples & words carefully. This is not presented in a dry manner, but is comprehensive in scope.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Far too long (at 48 lessons) but couldn't wait to listen to next chapters.

Any additional comments?

This is educational but it's pure fun too. Beautifully planned to keep you interested & informed.

17 people found this helpful

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  • Chris
  • 18-10-2013

Excellent Presentation

What about Professor Suzanne M. Desan’s performance did you like?

Professor Desan's enthusiasm really brought this topic to life. She did an excellent job explaining what was going on in ancien regime France that brought about such a profound event and the revolution's impact on France and Europe. In fact, I have a much better understanding of why the French Revolution is still so important to the French, perhaps even more so than our own. Finally, her lectures on Napoleon were balanced and nuanced. Napoleon is treacherous territory for any historian, but she traversed it with skill and aplomb.

16 people found this helpful

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  • SAMA
  • 26-02-2014

Feels like you're there

This course combines big historic events and trends during the era of the French Revolution and through Napoleon's reign with the everyday lives of the people who lived during that time. We need more history courses like this.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Anthony
  • 08-05-2014

One of the Better Courses

Where does Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Very High.

What did you like best about this story?

Loved it. Through and Through.

What about Professor Suzanne M. Desan’s performance did you like?

She's got a great speaking voice-

Any additional comments?

very good overview of the events during the french revolution, the factions, and the later napoleonic era. engaging and very well done. i recommend it.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Taffie
  • 03-09-2019

Good,, but beware the errors.

An interesting and well presented book spoiled by small errors throughout. A good example is the apparent inability of the narrator to tell the difference between England, Britain and the United Kingdom.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 05-03-2018

Good, but get your facts right.

Any additional comments?

This is a very thoughtful and comprehensive coverage of the period. However, I do wish that she would be much more accurate in her terminology. She seems to move with ease between talking about Great Britain and England as if they were the same thing. They are decidedly not! England was only one country within Great Britain. As a Scot, this really annoys me. I am very happy to be called British and to associate with Great Britain, for the good and for the bad things it was involved in, but I really do not appreciate it when people talk about England when they really mean Great Britain. I am afraid this really grated with me in the end, and spoilt what was, on the whole, a really excellent set of lectures.

14 people found this helpful

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  • mr
  • 08-02-2014

Very good

Really very good, focuses on the political and social side more than Napoleon, though he still does feature heavily. I will certainly be getting more books from The Great Courses.

4 people found this helpful

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  • quene
  • 12-07-2014

Entertaining and Informative

Would you consider the audio edition of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon to be better than the print version?

Lectures always work best in their original format. However, I feel that the lack of visual images did not bother me at all - the descriptions were vivid and clear.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon?

I was particularly fond of the stories of 'little' individuals, especially those not often mentioned in the context of the topic.

What does Professor Suzanne M. Desan bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Enthusiasm, passion for history, sense of humour.

Any additional comments?

I was left hungry for more. Unfortunately, another Great Courses lecture series I tried just did not compare to this one. I wish Professor Desan would expand on another topic in a similar way.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Nick
  • 21-01-2017

Riveting!

Any additional comments?

This is the best Great Courses series I've ever listened to (and I've got through quite a few). It was absolutely enthralling all the way. Just the right level of detail, and just the right degree of focus on individual stories and anecdotes to illustrate the broader themes. I felt I really got a sense of the extraordinary fervour of the times – the boundless uncertainty, fear and optimism – and it felt almost like an unfolding story, as if the eventual endings were not inevitable.

I disagree with a previous reviewer who complained that Desan was excessively biased in favour of Robespierre. Admittedly, very occasionally she makes statements appearing to justify some violent action (e.g. the execution of the king) and it's not clear whether she's simply explaining the perpetrators' perspective, or whether she is also attempting to present that perspective as one she personally endorses. This doesn't stop her from giving a full sense of the horrors of the revolution's dark side and the grievances felt by many anti-revolutionary French.

By the end of the course I felt a real desire to find out what happened next in France for the remainder of the century in the same level of detail and narrative style, or else dive in further detail into certain strands of the revolution. I don't think there's anything quite like this.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sophie
  • 29-12-2020

Another happy listener!!

I'm not going to be saying anything new here but it really is one of the best of the Great Courses series.I tried a few others and only ever finished one, but this one! I binge-listened to it, she makes all the characters, twists and turns of history come to life so brilliantly!


(Being very nitpicky here: I only noted two things that she mentions that are disputed? because of contradictory/a lack of contemporary sources- Robespierre meeting the King&Queen as a student (Apparently they never travelled through Paris on their coronation day because of the bad weather, Herve Leuwers talks about it in his biography of Robespierre on here) and the 'bals des victimes'--but it's still really interesting to hear about, and takes nothing away from the rest of the course.

Thank you so much Mme Desan :-)

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 09-08-2020

Excellent series of lectures

I really enjoyed these series of lectures. I've always had an interest in the French revolution and these lectures have tied together all the bits of information I've learnt thru the years from various other sources.
the lecturer is obviously expert and delivers a very succinct and understandable account. I would have liked more personal accounts from people who lived through it, but is fact not swathed in emotion.
All in all, excellent.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • UKBuyer
  • 04-05-2020

Well worth a listen

I loved this course. Suzanne Desan's enthusiasm for the subject is apparent in every lecture. I really knew nothing about the French Revolution and Napoleon when I started the course, but am so glad to now know a lot more about the era and it's place in history and relevance to modern times. Thank you Suzanne for making the subject so accessible to non-historians. Definitely the best course I've listened to.

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  • Jason
  • 01-04-2020

Excellent with only a few issues

The one hiccup that was constant was the constant interchanging of 'England' and 'Britain'. They are never interchangeable. After 1707 England as an independent country didnt exist, and never acted as an independent country after that year. It joined with Scotland to create Great Britain.

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  • Michael Willemoes Larsen
  • 03-10-2019

Top interesting

The French Revolution is far more significant than I ever realised. A very good, interesting and entertaining listen.

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