Twelve Who Ruled Book Review The year of terror is one of the most complex and misunderstood periods in the French Revolution. Palmer, in his book, Twelve Who Ruled, however, takes this period and skillfully turns it into a written masterpiece. The book is narrated from the point of view of someone with an omniscient knowledge of the subject matter, who is reflecting back on the period from the outside. The book tells the story of a brief moment in history when twelve men (Robespierre, Barer e, Saint Just, Couthon, Linde t, Carnot, Saint-Andre, P rieur, Varenne, Herbois, Scholes, and Duvernois) ruled France; even though they were technically under the control of the Convention. Palmer begins by giving the reader an overview of who the twelve men were before they became rulers of a nation. He then goes on to discuss the purpose of the Committee of Public Safety, and the organizational structure of the terror.
Palmer then smoothly moves on to discuss the ‘foreign plot’ and how the committee dealt with it. He goes on to explain the ‘Doom at Lyons’ by giving a very detailed description of the events that went on there. Palmer then precedes to depict the missions at Alsace and Brittany. In the last few chapters of the book, he slowly and carefully shows the winding down and eventual collapse of the Committee of Public Safety’s power. Throughout this book, Palmer does an exquisite job painting the collage of the twelve men’s ride to the top upon the horse of the committee of Public Safety. He wonderfully combines each man’s individual actions with the more general problems that the Committee of Public Safety confronted.
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He discusses in detail the policies adopted to defend the Revolution, as well as how and why they were put into effect. The layout of the chapters in the book is extremely logical; they are basically put in chronological order. The fact that Palmer takes the time to give a full historical background of the twelve men shows that he wanted this book to be access able to people who held no prior knowledge of the subject or time period. He gives a very lurid account of the most influential people on the committee, – namely Robespierre, Varenne, Carnot, Saint Andre, and Saint Just. In the first pages of the book, it is obvious the Robespierre will play the primary role in the book, that of the chairman, the most powerful man on the Committee of Public Safety. This can be seen when Palmer compares the other member to Robespierre.
After the personal history of each of the twelve men, Palmer moves right in and starts discussing how and why the Committee of Public Safety was formed, and how it came to power. After this, he maneuvers circumspectly into how the committee used this power to purge the nation of ‘counter revolutionaries,’ who needed but offend the sensitive ears of Robespierre to be executed. He then moves along chronologically to the height of the Committee’s power and eventually describes the decline and eventual demise of the reign of terror. This is signified by the execution of Robespierre, who was designated as the instigator of the terror. It is in his death that the terror culminated, and along with it, this book. This book is considerably effective as a narrative biography of the ‘Twelve Who Ruled.’ Through his eloquent use of detail and his elegant ability to paint a superb picture which incorporates both the lives and actions of the men in power and the essence and accomplishments of the Committee of Public Safety as a whole he tells the story of the Reign of Terror.
It is his intermixing of the two, along with his representation of the day that makes this book so ‘Thoroughly sound, eminently readable,’ and representative of great narrative writing. Throughout this book, Palmer discusses his explanation for the terror. He does a particularly good job of distinguishing between actions which defended the Revolution, and the general practice of terror which undermined the legitimacy of the government. He believes that some of the actions of the government were carried to the extreme. These beliefs are extremely evident in his writing, especially when he discusses the economy, the need for regulated prices, and a revolutionary army.
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This army was to march around the nation executing farmers who were hoarding their grain and being ‘counter revolutionaries.’ However, his conjectures are not universally present in the book, but only in particular places where he deems it necessary to express his views. As is stated above, Robespierre is one of the principal personalities in the narration. This is due to the fact that he was the head of the Committee of Public Safety; in other words, for ten months, Robespierre was more or less the head of the nation. Because he was the primary person responsible for the terror, he held an extremely tenable ideological rationale for it. Palmer discusses Robespierre’s justification from several distinct prospective’s, including but not limited to, that of Robespierre himself, the Jacobins, the Convention, the other members of the Committee of Public Safety, the ‘counter revolutionaries’, and the. By portraying Robespierre’s justification from so many differing points of view, he presents an extremely unbiased, balanced evaluation.
He compel ls the reader to come up with his own evaluation of Robespierre’s ideological justification. However, he slightly pressures the reader into believing that Robespierre was possibly too extreme for France, at least at that time of the Revolution. In his showing of the multiple points of view of Robespierre’s rationale for the terror, Palmer makes a persuasive argument that the psychological dynamics of the terror were very simple and therefore affected the majority of the nation. Palmer convincingly argues that the psychological effects of the terror were so great that people were afraid to speak their minds or complain about standards; they feared that they might be labeled counter revolutionaries, and be sentenced to death or imprisonment by the revolutionary court. The abolition of legal council made it that much easier to convict presumed enemies of the state. All of these aspects of the terror worked on people’s minds and forced them to act in ways in which they would not normally have acted.
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Due to the effectiveness of Palmer’s presentation of the terror, the reader might get the idea that if he were involved in the Revolution, he might be afraid to speak up and voice his opinion. This is due to the fact that it might upset or oppose any person in power who might overhear what he said. These are the psychological of the terror. In his book Twelve Who Ruled, Palmer eloquently writes this narrative, ‘weaving the biographies of the twelve into the history of their time,’ and provides a coherent and convincing explanation of the terror. The book is not only educational for someone interested in the time period when these twelve men ruled the nation of France, but it is also enjoyable from the perspective of a person reading the book solely for interest in revolutions and how they affect the people who are involved in them.
The book deals with a brief period of time during the French Revolution, namely the year of terror. The book ventures to interpret the foundations and rationale for the terror and Palmer illustrates his speculations on the subject through gracious, flowing writing.