Books: The Rhythm of Retribution

CITIZENS: A CHRONICLE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION by Simon Schama

Knopf; 948 pages; $29.95

This extraordinary history of the French Revolution begins with a three- story-high plaster elephant standing guard in the Place de la Bastille. Commissioned by the triumphant Emperor Napoleon, eventually to be recast in the bronze of captured cannons, the elephant was designed to make Parisians forget their revolutionary past and dream of an imperial future. Its real destiny -- like the question of what to remember -- proved quite different. "By 1830, when revolution revisited Paris, the elephant was in an advanced state of decomposition," writes Harvard...

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