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Sister Revolutions

French Lightning, American Light

Susan Dunn

Faber & Faber

What the two great modern revolutions can teach us about democracy today.

In 1790, the American diplomat and politician Gouverneur Morris compared the French and American Revolutions, saying that the French "have taken Genius instead of Reason for their guide, adopted Experiment instead of Experience, and wander in the Dark because they prefer Lightning to Light." Although both revolutions professed similar Enlightenment ideals of freedom, equality, and justice, there were dramatic differences. The Americans were content to preserve many aspects of their English heritage; the French sought a complete break with a thousand years of history. The Americans accepted nonviolent political conflict; the French valued unity above all. The Americans emphasized individual rights, while the French stressed public order and cohesion.

Why did the two revolutions follow such different trajectories? What influence have the two different visions of democracy had on modern history? And what lessons do they offer us about democracy today? In a lucid narrative style, with particular emphasis on lively portraits of the major actors, Susan Dunn traces the legacies of the two great revolutions through modern history and up to the revolutionary movements of our own time. Her combination of history and political analysis will appeal to all who take an interest in the way democratic nations are governed.

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Sister Revolutions
1Sister RevolutionsFor months in 1777 it was the talk of Paris: a young nobleman, the sole heir to the prestigious title and immense fortune of one of France's most ancient families, had mysteriously vanished. He was a man who possessed, they said, all that one could dream of in life. True, he had already lost his father and his mother, but he was happily married to the pretty daughter of the Duc d'Ayen, and they were expecting their second child.Their world was one of luxury and elegance: Paris was their home, and the glittering, pleasure-filled salons of Marie Antoinette
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Praise for Sister Revolutions

"Stimulating and provocative . . . Sister Revolutions shows not only how the French and American experiments developed but also why their differing examples have continued to beguile leaders." --Paul Gray, Time

"Dunn . . . finds some fresh things to say about this old but rich topic." --Richard Brookhiser, New York Times Book Review

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Susan Dunn

  • Susan Dunn is professor of French literature and the history of ideas at Williams College. She is the author of numerous critically acclaimed articles and books in political theory and historical literary criticism, and she has been the recipient of fellowships from the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others.
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    Sister Revolutions

    French Lightning, American Light

    Susan Dunn

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