One of my favorite lines about American history comes from a French Canadian movie. It's in "The Barbarian Invasions" and it is spoken by a left-wing Canadian history professor who is dying. He takes a moment to marvel at the all-star team of thinkers and politicos who gave birth to the United States.
“The Black Jacobins,” by C.L.R. James. “This is a book you have to read before you die,” a college professor once told me, about C.L.R. James’ classic account of the Haitian Revolution. In one of the few successful slave rebellions in human history, the slaves of Saint-Domingue overthrew their owners and French colonial rulers. They were led by a literate slave, Toussaint L’Overture.
“Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution,” by Simon Schama. Thomas Jefferson, then the new American republic’s ambassador to France, helped the Marquis de Lafayette write the Declaration of the Rights of Man. That, roughly speaking, is about as far as the similarities between the American and French Revolutions go, as Schama’s massive, detailed but reader-friendly book make clear. I’ve covered a few riots and revolutions in my day, and I’ve learned that the line between the two is a very blurry one indeed.