An historical account of the Thermidorian Reaction following the fall of Robespierre in July of 1794. The book provides an examination of the 36,000 files of the revolutionary police to reconstruct events on the streets as they parallelled those in the Assembly, and provides a picture of social and political life in Paris at the time. He describes how the sans-culottes, the lower-class radicals who had been the mainspring and vanguard of the French Revolution, were crushed, and analyzes the role played by the jeunesse doree in their defeat. The jeunesse doree, or "gilded youth", were a parallel militia recruited from the ranks of minor officials and small shopkeepers. They formed a distinctive subculture, defined by age and social origin, with their own forms of extravagant dress, their own anthem ("Le Reveil du Peuple"), their own affectations of speech, their own regular meeting-places in the cafes of the Palais-Royal, and even their own passwords, which were usually indirect references to Louis XVII.
Gendron sees them as the shock-troops of the Thermidorian Convention, encouraged and sometimes employed by its Committee of General Security to force the pace of the reaction against the "terrorists", the sans-culottes. This provocation led to the uprisings of Germinal and Prairial and the consequent eviction of the sans-culottes from the political arena. Social historians such as Albert Soboul have written mainly about the sans-culottes at the peak of the Revolution. In focusing on the jeunesse doree, Gendron highlights the ways in which, although initially used as a means to counteract the revolts of the sans-culottes, they were to become one of the driving forces of the reaction, carrying the Convention well beyond its political aims. This work, available in French since 1979, won the Medaille d'Argent du Prix Biguet (Academie Francaise). This translation should be welcomed by English-speaking historians and students of the French Revolution.