Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University. Patriots and Liberators' has been awarded with the Wolfson Prize for History. He is the author of 'The Embarrassment of Riches', 'Citizens' which won the 1990 NCR book award for non-fiction, 'Dead Certainties', 'Landscape and Memory' which won the W H Smith Literary Award in 1995, and 'Rembrandt's Eyes' (1999). He is also the author of the monumental 'History of Britain' published in three volumes. He was art critic of the 'New Yorker' from 1995 to 1998 and was made CBE in the 2001 New Year's Honours list.
The Netherlands was more than a pawn of the French during this period, argues an Oxford and Cambridge student of J. H. Plumb in this broad, profuse, yet tightly organized work; the Dutch strove mightily for independence until finally crushed by Napoleonic designs. Holland's Batavian Republic of 1797, born when the French revolutionary army drove the British, Austrians, and Prussians out of Holland, gave new life to the Patriot faction that had been crushed a decade earlier, after which - as Schama documents - the country suffered economic collapse to the point of gruesome epidemics. The spokesmen of a national renaissance had looked toward the American Revolution as the holy sun of progress; when the French liberated them, however, there developed the classic irreconcilability within a revolution of its two primary constituents - freedom and power. Political and intellectual ferment mounted in the Free Corps and reading societies, but disputes multipled over taxation, religion, and minority aspirations. And leadership was thin, except for a few men like Pieter Paulus, who died tragically in 1796 at the age of 42. Finally Napoleon forced a Directorate on the divided country and installed his brother Louis as regent, exacting hundreds of millions of guilders for the empire. Above all, Schama blames French developments for the failure of Dutch nationalism, while limiting his discussion of the British role. But the book gives a powerful sense of civil freedom, educational and legal reforms, and sweeping excitement in the Netherlands between the French grant of liberty on the points of bayonets and the Napoleonic clampdown, itself cast in an acute light through Schama's material on the strain of simultaneously promoting modernization and financing continental wars. It is always good news when a traditional subject of footnotes is made into a major, rewarding study; Schama's final judgments will draw challenge, while his demonstration that the spirit of the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age survived in revolutionary form is an important (and delightfully written) contribution. (Kirkus Reviews)