Legend has it that, in a few busy weeks in July 1789, a despotic king, his freeloading wife, and a horde of over-privileged aristocrats, were displaced and then humanely dispatched.
In the ensuing years, we are told, France was heroically transformed into an idyll of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite.
In fact, as Stephen Clarke argues in his informative and eye-opening account of the French Revolution, almost all of this is completely untrue.
In 1789 almost no one wanted to oust King Louis XVI, let alone guillotine him.
While the Bastille was being stormed by out-of-control Parisians, the true democrats were at work in Versailles creating a British-style constitutional monarchy.
The founding of the Republic in 1792 unleashed a reign of terror that caused about 300,000 violent deaths.
And people hailed today as revolutionary heroes were dangerous opportunists, whose espousal of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite did not stop them massacring political opponents and guillotining women for demanding equal rights.
Going back to original French sources, Stephen Clarke has uncovered the little-known and rarely told story of what was really happening in revolutionary France, as well as what went so tragically and bloodily wrong.
Stephen Clarke lives in Paris, where he divides his time between writing and not writing. His Merde novels have been bestsellers all over the world, including France. His non-fiction books include Talk to the Snail, an insider's guide to understanding the French; How the French Won Waterloo (or Think They Did), an amused look at France's continuing obsession with Napoleon; Dirty Bertie: An English King Made in France, a biography of Edward VII; and 1000 Years of Annoying the French, which was a number one bestseller in Britain. Research for The French Revolution and What Went Wrong took him deep into French archives in search of the actual words, thoughts and deeds of the revolutionaries and royalists of 1789. He has now re-emerged to ask modern Parisians why they have forgotten some of the true democratic heroes of the period, and opted to idolize certain maniacs.