In 1789 French revolutionaries initiated a cultural experiment that radically transformed the most basic elements of French literary civilization—authorship, printing, and publishing. In a panoramic analysis, Carla Hesse tells how the Revolution shook the Parisian printing and publishing world from top to bottom, liberating the trade from absolutist institutions and inaugurating a free-market exchange of ideas.

Historians and literary critics have traditionally viewed the French Revolution as a catastrophe for French literary culture. Combing through extensive new archival sources, Hesse finds instead that revolutionaries intentionally dismantled the elite literary civilization of the Old Regime to create unprecedented access to the printed word. Exploring the uncharted terrains of popular fiction, authors' rights, and literary life under the Terror, Carla Hesse offers a new perspective on the relationship between democratic revolutions and modern cultural life.