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A place of greater safety

By Chris Golis - posted Wednesday, 30 January 2013

One of my favourite sayings is Samuel Johnson’s ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. I believe it is particularly appropriate to the world of politics. Examples abound from history but this novel probably puts the French Revolution at the top of totem pole. 

An article about Hilary Mantel said that if you had read and enjoyed both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, you should read A Place of Greater Safety. I fell into this category and I am pleased to report I am glad I followed the advice. I read this book on my Kindle while on holiday in France. I subsequently learnt that the book is 768 pages long in paperback so I was glad I was not carrying it around. You should not speed read this book, as Mantel introduces so many delightful psychological touches.

The novel describes the rise and fall of three of the leading protagonists of the French Revolution: Robespierre, Danton and Desmoulins. All three want to build a new and better France, but although the three have had long standing close relations with each other, each has a different vision and so the problems start.


Those of us who were educated in either American or British Schools have a passing if limited knowledge of the French Revolution. This book helps illuminate how the French Revolution developed and why it, like so many other subsequent revolutions, transformed into the Reign of Terror. It provides an excellent psychological insight about why good government is so difficult to achieve and how it can go off the rails.

A second favourite saying of mine is that ‘Politicians campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose’ and this is examined beautifully in Mantel’s novel. If you enjoy good writing you will enjoy this book.

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Chris Golis is Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence. He is an author, professional speaker and workshop leader. His site is

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