I am inspired to fill a gap in my knowledge after watching “The Affair of the Necklace”, which I liked very much.
It is not uncommon for me to become fascinated with periods in history and particular historical figures after watching some fictionalized tv or film program about them (which accounts for my rather in-depth knowledge of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Bloody Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, and many of the figures surrounding these monarchs… thank the BBC for inspiring me to learn more). Now I want to have a greater understanding of the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette’s story in particular.
Can someone recommend a light and lively tome that will serve as a good start?
I highly recommend “Citizens” by Simon Schama. It’s highly readable (thought not short or really “breezy”, but no worthwhile account of the French Revolution is), and though some of his conclusions are debatable it’s an informative and well-written tome.
If you want the real deal, with readability (but not really “breezy”–Schama is “breezier” but good, although he is generally unpopular with most of the leftish academic historians) you have to read Francois Furet. There is a general book he wrote with Denis Richet in the 1970s which is still good, as well as his French Revolution 1789-1814 or something like that. Unless you know something about the historiography, stay away from his Interpreting the French Revolution, as it is rather allusive and was written in the context of the weakening hold of Marxism on French historians during the 1970s and 1980s. But the general histories a treat.
Ooh! Ooh! The first—and still the best—book I have read on the French Revolution is Stanley Loomis’ Paris in the Terror (1964). Out of print, but good libraries should have it, and it’s available cheap via used-book sites. Loomis also wrote biographies of Marie Antoinette (The Fatal Friendship) and Madame DuBarry, both of which are also first-rate.
The obvious place to start for Marie Antoinette is Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey. In recommending it, I must confess that I’ve not actually read it and many of the professional historians who have reviewed it have been a bit sniffy, but Fraser does have a reputation of being able to appeal to the general reader. You might find that it’s just what you want as an introduction. I would second peepthis on Citizens, although you will get more out of it if you read a more conventional account first.