Two centuries later, the French Revolution—that extraordinary event that founded modern democracy—continues to give rise to a reevaluation of essential questions. The ambition of this magnificent volume is not only to present the reader with the research of a wide range of international scholars on those questions, but also to bring one into the heart of the issues still under lively debate.
Its form is as original as its goal: neither dictionary, in the traditional sense of the word, nor encyclopedia, it is deliberately limited to some ninety-nine entries organized alphabetically by key words and themes under five major headings: events, including the Estates General and the Terror; actors, such as Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Napoleon Bonaparte; institutions and creations, among them Revolutionary Calendar and Suffrage; ideas, covering, for example, Ancien Régime, the American Revolution, and Liberty; and historians and commentators, from Hegel to Tocqueville. In addition, there are synoptic indexes of names and themes that give the reader easy access to the entire volume as well as a key to its profound coherence.
What unifies all the varied topics brought together in this dictionary is their authors’ effort to be “critical.” As such, the book rejects the dogmatism of closed systems and definitive interpretations. Its aim is less to make a complete inventory of the findings of the history of the French Revolution than to take stock of what remains problematical about those findings; this work thus offers the additional special quality of incorporating the rich historiographical literature unceasingly elaborated since 1789.
With A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, François Furet and Mona Ozouf invite the reader to recross the first two centuries of French democracy in order to gain a better understanding of the origins of the world in which we live today.