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Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon

Narrated by: Suzanne M. Desan
Length: 24 hrs and 47 mins
4.7 out of 5 stars (47 ratings)

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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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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Ruined by the narration

I know this sounds petty, but in an audio-only project, it’s CRITICAL that the narrator is a good speaker, and this woman has a voice like a tuba with clogged up with Doritos. I expected the usual aural crime of an American trying to say French words, (she says “Murat” as “MOOHAW”), but she mispronounces English words as well - how are you supposed to take a lecturer on the French Revolution seriously when she pronounces the word “revolt” as “REvult”?

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating!

This was a wonderful introduction to the French Revolution and Napoleon. It was also my first exposure to this history, but it won’t be my last. The professor’s knowledge and passion for her subject were outstanding and I thoroughly enjoyed her lectures.

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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 2016-11-21

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.

26 people found this helpful

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  • Monte Johnston
  • 2013-09-17

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.

23 people found this helpful

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  • Scott
  • 2014-01-16

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.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Martin Lefebvre
  • 2013-08-12

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.

26 people found this helpful

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  • Alison
  • 2013-08-23

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.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Matt
  • 2018-08-03

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.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-11-20

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.

6 people found this helpful

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  • SAMA
  • 2014-02-26

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.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Chris
  • 2013-10-18

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.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Anthony
  • 2014-05-08

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.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Filou
  • 2019-12-05

Good overview for beginners

This course, though certainly long with its 25 hours, is nonetheless a rather succinct overview of the French Revolution (the most important points, surely), and an even quicker overview of the Empire (which lasted practically as long as the Revolutionary period, but seems to be covered in half the amount of time). If you have a limited amount of knowledge of the French Revolution, this course will definitely help you understand what needs to be known. It's indeed thorough enough as an overview, and admittedly delves into the most important aspects of that important period in human history. I really enjoyed listening to such a well-crafted course. But it is a beginner's course. Each important theme is discussed in a 30 minute lecture, so naturally, you won't get the details. Obviously, a character like Robespierre, or an event like the War in the Vendée, two subjects I happen to know a fair share amount about, could easily fill a 25 hour lecture on their own. Napoleon could fill 100 hours of course. So perhaps if you find a particular lecture in this course interesting, know that there is much more in that theme to read about, and I'd encourage you to pick up a more detailed book on any particular sub-subject of this course. I couldn't help feeling kind of left out at times when Suzanne Desan skimmed over some subjects I liked and that I know we have much more material on. Sometimes I felt disappointment when she didn't mention a particular detail which I deemed important. Anyway, Suzanne Desan's lecture remains very good for what it is. Her performance could be better though. It feels too much like she's reading. I personally prefer a more improvisational tone when I'm listening to a class, or a history podcast. When Mrs Desan adds a joke or two, it sounds slightly off. One remark she made really stuck to me because it just came out of the blue. At one point she expressed the irony that the Revolutionaries would make their oath in a Tennis court, considering how "France isn't a very athletic nation"... Uh, what? What a weird thing to say. I'm aware of French stereotypes, but I wasn't aware of this one... I know this review sounds more negative than positive, so let me be clear. It's a very good introduction course to the Revolution. The last third or so of the course concerns the Empire and that's somewhat lacking. But the Revolution is covered in all of its most important aspects. You should definitely pick this up if you're a beginner on this subject, or if you're confused and need a good overview to help you piece everything together. You'll come out of this with a much better understanding of this period.

1 person found this helpful