The guillotine is undoubtedly the most potent image of revolutionary France, the tool whereby a whole society was "redesigned". Yet what came to be seen as an instrument of terror was, paradoxically, introduced as the result of the humanitarian feelings of men intent on revising an ancient and barbaric penal code. Robert Frederick Opie takes the reader on a sometimes terrifying journey through the narrow streets of 18th-century Paris and beyond. Initially scorned by the revolutionary mob for being insufficiently cruel, the swift and efficient guillotine soon became the darling of the crowd, despatching as many as 60 people a day beneath its blade. But the Razor of the Nation was to remain the chosen instrument of capital punishment until the 1970s, only finally being banned in 1981. This work traces the development of the guillotine over nearly two centuries, recounting the stories of famous executions, the lives of the executioners and the scientific research into whether the head retained consciousness after it was separated from the body that continued into the 1950s. The story recounts some diabolical uses of human inventiveness, but also many touching pleas for mercy.