So I read William Doyle’s The Oxford History of the French Revolution at the same time as I listened to Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast take on the subject in the course of 55 episodes (roughly 27 hours). There actually ends up being nearly the same amount of detail in book and podcast, so it’s interesting how different they were.

The podcast focuses on the narrative aspects of the history. It gives you more fleshed-out and fully-realized characters. It gives you events in purely chronological order, so that they flow in cause-and-effect order at all times. It gives you a good chunk of military history as it delves into Napoleon’s campaigns in Italy and Egypt.

The book has very little of that. Its characters are largely just names; it covers subjects topically, so that it’ll get to things out of order; and it skipped right over most of the military details. But what it gives you in exchange is more context of the international situation outside of France; more analysis of economics and institutions; and more of the broader implications of events beyond the story of the moment.

Honestly, they complement each other well. So if you’re going to read this book (and it seems a decent enough, if not stellar, survey text), I do recommend listening to the podcast either right beforehand or in conjunction with it. If you’re only going to do one, though… as much as it pains me, a fan of the written word, to say it, I’d go with the podcast. Duncan just does a better job of making things comprehensible and memorable than Doyle’s book does.


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