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The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, a Life
     

The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, a Life

by David Lawday
 

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One of the Western world’s most epic uprisings, the French Revolution ended a monarchy that had ruled for almost a thousand years. George-Jacques Danton was the driving force behind it. In the first biography of Danton in over forty years, David Lawday reveals the larger-than-life figure who joined the fray at the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was

Overview


One of the Western world’s most epic uprisings, the French Revolution ended a monarchy that had ruled for almost a thousand years. George-Jacques Danton was the driving force behind it. In the first biography of Danton in over forty years, David Lawday reveals the larger-than-life figure who joined the fray at the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was dead five years later.
To hear Danton speak, his booming voice a roll of thunder, excited bourgeois reformers and the street alike; his impassioned speeches, often hours long, drove the sans culottes to action and kept the Revolution alive. But as the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Danton struggled to steer the increasingly divided Revolutionary government. Working tirelessly to halt the bloodshed of Robespierre’s Terror, he ultimately became another of its victims. True to form, Danton did not go easily to the guillotine; at his trial, he defended himself with such vehemence that the tribunal convicted him before he could rally the crowd in his favor.
In vivid, almost novelistic prose, Lawday leads us from Danton’s humble roots to the streets of Revolutionary Paris, where this political legend acted on the stage of the revolution that altered Western civilization.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Lawday gives us not only a fine biography but a moving description of revolutionary tragedy as well…An exciting history, gracefully written and well researched.”—Publishers Weekly

“Lawday presents an absorbing portrait of a celebrated victim…he viscerally recreates the look and smell of the fevered Paris Danton moved about, setting the mood for the climax to Danton’s call for moderation: his execution in 1794. A page-turner for history readers, guaranteed.”—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

The Giant of the French Revolution sweeps one along in a gathering floodtide of rich description, brilliant characterization, subtle political analysis and breathless suspense. David Lawday has written a masterful, spine-tingling thriller - except that every word in this compulsively readable book is true.”—Mark Danner, author of Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War

“Lawday creates some great set pieces and striking turning points…He is able to capture the atmosphere of the early Revolution: its inflammable mix of devilment and righteousness, reckless selflessness and flagrant self-promotion. He sees that Danton was more than the sum of his crimes, the sum of his secrets; he celebrates him, ‘large heart and violent impulses in irresolvable conflict’.” —Hilary Mantel, The London Review of Books

“The author ably assembles a convincing portrait of a man of giant stature, appetite, ability and ego…a clear account of one man’s failure to recognize the fanged creatures that swim in waves of passion and popularity.”—Kirkus

“A gripping story, beautifully told.”—The Economist

“Immensely readable…Lawday’s book is ultimately meticulously researched and thoroughly footnoted throughout. Indeed, alongside its thought-provoking reading of Danton, this biography offers an excellent entrée for the uninitiated into the history and politics of the French Revolution.” —Síofra Pierse, Irish Times

“David Lawday strides confidently into the fray and brings back a compelling, highly readable, and very timely account of a paradoxical champion of humanity pitted against ideological fanaticism.”—David Coward, The Independent (U.K.)

Kirkus Reviews
The rise and fall of Georges-Jacques Danton (1759-1794), whose booming voice and fervid passion animated both the French Revolution that honored him and the Terror that took his head. Former Economist correspondent Lawday, who first developed an interest in Danton while working on a previous biography (Napoleon's Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand, 2007), recognized that his subject presented challenges. Danton didn't like to write and left virtually no revealing personal documents. Nonetheless, the author ably assembles a convincing portrait of a man of giant stature, appetite, ability and ego. Lawday begins in 1789 on the day after the fall of the Bastille as young Danton, just 29, arrives at the site and, his voice roaring, immediately announces his presence on the revolutionary stage. The author then sketches Danton's early story: his birth in the Champagne region and some early childhood experiences that sound almost mythic (he was suckled by a cow, wounded in the face by a bull. Big, strong and ugly, Danton was also bright and ambitious and soon began the pursuit of a legal career in Paris. Lawday rehearses the principal causes of the Revolution and gradually introduces the principal players, including Mirabeau, Lafayette, Madame Roland, Marat, Thomas Paine, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the unsmiling villain of the piece, Robespierre. The author also tracks Danton's personal life, which included his beloved first wife (who died in childbirth-Danton's reaction is horrifying and wrenching) and his 16-year-old second wife, whom he swiftly married. "He was thirty-three years old," writes Lawday, "and he needed the closeness of a woman's body." The author ably follows his subject's maneuvers into positions of authority, his confounding combination of cruelty and compassion and his underestimation of Robespierre, who engineered Danton's death shortly before his own date with the national razor. A clear account of one man's failure to recognize the fanged creatures that swim in waves of passion and popularity. Agent: George Lucas/InkWell Management

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802119339
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
07/06/2010
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Educated at Oxford, David Lawday is a writer and journalist who spent twenty years as a correspondent for The Economist. The author of Napoleon’s Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand, he now lives in Paris with his French wife.

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