Bastille Day Reading

14th of July smI know what you are thinking: “What is this Bastille Day all about?”  To that end allow me to suggest some reading.  If I wasn’t hopelessly behind in my own reading I would have read the book by now and offered a timely review.  Alas and alack, it was not to be.  If you are interested in the subject, however, it seems like a worthwhile read.

The Fourteenth of July: And the Taking of the Bastille by Christopher Prendergast

Here is PWs take:

On July 14, 1789, a mob stormed the Bastille, Paris’s redoubtable prison. It held only seven inmates, but the Estates-General had achieved political parity with King Louis XVI, and Parisians, fearing a royalist coup, were searching for weapons stored in the Bastille. In a well-written account, Prendergast recounts in detail the events of the day and, as important, those leading up to it, including failed attempts to impose new taxes and the very poor harvest leading to popular unrest. In the book’s second and more interesting half, Memory, the author examines how the French have continually refashioned the meaning of the day and of the French Revolution in general. By the bicentennial in 1989, a commemoration of the founding of modern France, the general public had become, by and large, indifferent to political and intellectual debates over the Revolution. Prendergast notes how French political leaders have used history for political and ideological purposes, and how, in our age of short memory, history and celebration increasingly diverge.

Of course, you could go classical and read Edmund Burke instead: Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Or you could go with a modern polemical look at US relations with France:

Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France by John J. Miller and Mark Molesky

From Booklist

Lafayette, the Statue of Liberty, D-Day– such symbolic shorthand for a historical alliance between France and America crumbles in the caustic viewpoint expressed by this historical review of their relationship. Miller, of the conservative National Review,^B and Molesky, a Harvard history lecturer, argue that animosity rather than amity has been the two countries’ normal state of affairs, extending from the French and Indian War to the post-World War II pattern of frequent French diplomatic opposition to American foreign policy. The authors reflect on the sources of French anti-Americanism, maintaining it is, in part, because of France’s resentment of its own decline as a great power and its cultural contempt for America as crass and materialistic. What may seem like the long-gone past, such as Napoleon III’s pro-South policy in the Civil War, is presented as a seamless continuum to the present, representing the French proclivity for hampering the American “hyperpower,” as one foreign minister recently called the U.S. Gratifying to a nationalist sensibility, Miller and Molesky’s editorialized jaunt through history is fluid and opinionated.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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