Jill Harsin undertakes an interesting and worthy experiment in Barricades. She attempts to recover the world of French republican radicals between the Revolutions of 1830 and 1848 using a narrative approach that will appeal to both scholars and general readers. On the whole, her efforts are a success. Harsin has absorbed the findings of dozens of monographs and done impressive research, herself, in newspapers and police files. She has organized the material, inherently fascinating in its own way, in an enticing manner and brought in the character development and plotting that one finds more often in novels than in history books. This is work is a step in the direction of breaking down barriers between scholarship and pleasure reading.
Harsin estimates that there were a few thousand radical republicans in Paris of the July Monarchy. Her book chronicles the ways these exceptional individuals were shaped by an incendiary environment. The author does not have a bold, new argument to advance, but the recounting of events in such detail provides much food for thought on Paris during what Eric Hobsbawm has called “the age of Revolution.” What made Paris between 1830 and 1848 incendiary was that the work of the Great Revolution seemed to many so flagrantly incomplete. 1789 and 1793 had given le peuple the right to determine its own fate; yet, tyrants and aristocrats still ruled. The republicans imagined themselves elected by their own virtue and manhood to complete the Revolution. This involved them in the secret societies, plots, and regicide attempts that Harsin describes so cogently.
For quite a while now, pre-1848 France has been a scholarly backwater. A frequent complaint from those who teach undergraduate courses on modern France is that there are so few suitable books to assign on this era. If the publisher would bring out a paperback edition of Barricades, it would be a serious option. Its felicitous style and narrative approach recommend it for students; but any reader would come away with an enhanced appreciation of the forces percolating in the streets of Paris in a revolutionary age.