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Fatal Purity


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How idealism turned to blood- a powerful new portrait of the most enigmatic politician of all times, and a vivid re-reading of the turbulent French Revolution itself.

About the Author

Born in 1971, Ruth Scurr is an historian of Political Thought, specialising in eighteenth-century France. She teaches at the University of Cambridge, and is a regular reviewer for The Times and the Times Literary Supplement. This is her first book.


The short, violent life of Maximilien Robespierre was a mass of contradictions crowned with a supreme irony: this architect of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror would in July 1794 be executed by the same guillotine to which he had consigned so many others. Cambridge University historian Scurr says she has tried to write a biography that expresses "neither partisan adulation nor exaggerated animosity," but even she must conclude that with the Terror, he "kept moving through that gory river, because he believed it necessary for saving the Revolution. He can be accused of insanity and inhumanity but certainly not of insincerity." Robespierre can also be accused of being a revolutionary fanatic who hated atheists, and "became the living embodiment of the Revolution at its most feral"; a dedicated upholder of republican virtues whose hands were smothered in blood; a fierce opponent of the death penalty who helped send thousands to their deaths; and a democratic tribune of the people who wore a sky-blue coat and embroidered waistcoats so aristocratic they wouldn't have been out of place at the court of the Sun King. Scurr's first book scores highly in unraveling not only her subject's complexities but those of his era. 2 maps. (Apr. 29) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Maximilien Robespierre was an ambitious provincial lawyer whose political career came to epitomize the bloody excesses of the French Revolution. Few would argue that his commitment to egalitarian principles was anything less than genuine, but his intransigent commitment to these principles set the basis for a terror-based state whose legacy still haunts the postmodern world. Scurr (history, Cambridge) skillfully uses Robespierre's writings to provide insight into a complex personality of the man called the Incorruptible, who was kind and gentle in private life and a brutal infighter in the public arena. Scurr maintains that Robespierre's iron will sustained the Revolution during its most turbulent period but that within his fanaticism lurked the seeds of his demise. His Reign of Terror eventually devoured him. This is Scurr's first book, and one hopes that it is not her last. She evokes the temper of those times through the copious use of primary sources, and her characterizations of such personalities as Mirabeau, Marat, and Brissot are splendid. This is the best biography of the Incorruptible since David Jordan's The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre over 20 years ago and is highly recommended for academic and public libraries.-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

There is a dazzling light of intellect as much as a thunderous darkness of reality in her fine, humanising portrait * The Times, Ten Best Books of 2006 *
Scurr has an important tale to tell, and she tells it judiciously -- Lucy Hughes-Hallett * Sunday Times *
Ruth Scurr's aim, in this well written first book, is to provide an accessible, up - to date biography that draws on all this work, and represents Robespierre as a human being rather than as a monster of legend. She succeeds impressively -- Munro Price * Sunday Telegraph *
This splendidly balanced account of an unbalanced mind proves that there are monsters of virtue as well as monsters of vice -- Graham Robb * Daily Telegraph *
It is judicious, balanced, and admirably clear at every point....It is quite the calmest and least abusive history of the Revolution you will ever read -- Hilary Mantel * London Review of Books *

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