As history, the uprisings of 1848 have long been overshadowed by the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian revolutions of the early twentieth century. And yet in 1848 nearly all of Europe was aflame with conflict. Parallel political tumults spread like brush fire across the entire continent, leading to significant changes that continue to shape our world today. These battles for the future were fought with one eye kept squarely on the past: The men and women of 1848 saw the urgent challenges of their world as shaped profoundly by the past, and saw themselves as inheritors of a revolutionary tradition.
Clark presents the unrest at street level through eyewitness accounts, and he weaves this material into an impressive transcontinental tableau ... Brims with poetry, novels, memoirs and paintings, and Clark is drawn to color, sound and dress ... Clark acknowledges the spectral presence of the French Revolution for the actors involved in this drama, but, in making comparisons, he is more interested in musing on the present.
While Clark’s book is full of incident, his heart isn’t really in the narrative. The first really dramatic moment, the uprising in Paris, isn’t described until he is almost 300 pages in. But although his book is a daunting prospect for the casual reader, it’s a marvel of research and analysis.
The society brought to life in Revolutionary Spring thrills with unexpected energy. Clark speaks the language of liberal moderation, of political radicalism, of religion and of patriotism in ways that capture something of the glamour that infused them at the time ... This is narrative history in the grand style, and Clark does not neglect the great set pieces. If you want the February revolution, the fall of Metternich, the Five Days of Milan, you will find them vividly rendered here in a prose that interlaces deep learning with deliberate anachronism.