Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Penguin, London and New York 2004. First published 1989.
Weighing it at 740 pages, excluding preface and endnotes, this is a magisterial volume. For all its size, however, it is surprisingly easy to read. Schama has a directness and a grasp of narrative that carries the reader along, from the last years of the reign of Louis XV through the reign of the ultimately-doomed Louis Seize, to the execution of a moaning Robespierre on the guillotine. Schama doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the Revolution, nor from the failings of the monarchy beforehand. He also considers the social and cultural context – even if he doesn’t cover nearly as much as I wanted to know about everything. (Which would probably make the book unmanageably long.)
One day I’ll read a history of the Revolution that takes the narrative all the way through the Directorate and the coup of Consul Napoleon, but I have yet to find that book. This book, however, is excellent, detailed, and readable – and I want to read more about the Revolution now.