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France: An Adventure History

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In his chapter on Napoleon, he notes: “He was the man whose patriotism was served by wiliness and steely charm combined with ruthless determination --- which is why the epithet napoléonien is applied to Presidents Mitterrand, Sarkozy and Macron rather than to General de Gaulle. His essays are mostly history mixed with part memoir, part travelogue, and a decent amount of humor. One critique would be that it doesn’t spend time on every French province, and only makes minimal mentions of overseas French departments and French colonial history. Along the way, readers will find the usual faces, events and themes of French history – Louis XIV, the French Revolution, the French Résistance, the Tour de France – but all presented in a shining new light. I learned about people, times and places I knew nothing if and a lot more about aspects I thought I was familiar with.

This does a great job looking at the idea of France and how its political identity was shaped, but I think Robb could do justice but a follow up with looking at the pieces of French culture (cuisine, the tour, wine) that make up what it is today.So, anyone looking for a survey of French history will be disappointed, but someone wishing to know how Caesar would approach the northern Gaul warriors or Michel Frédérick lost the Tour de France will find exquisite essays. Original, knowledgeable and endlessly entertaining, France: An Adventure History is an unforgettable journey through France from the first century BC to the present day. I do not know if this is a "style" worth categorising separately from other styles of telling history under an objective point of view, but it certainly does on my shelf.

His style is not straightforward, but that of a curious vagabond slash ADHD explorer who cannot stick to one thing in particular. During the lockdown phase of Covid, my wife and I replaced our usual date nights – dinner and/or drinks out – with foreign language lessons. Masters of the sea, the Venetians raised an empire through an ethos of service and loyalty to a republic that lasted a thousand years. I’m far from being a Francophile, but if a book is written well enough you can be converted to almost anything…at least for the duration of the read.Graham Robb does not offer a standard dry list of facts and dates, but instead a panorama of France, teeming with characters, full of stories, journeys and coincidences, giving readers a thrilling sense of discovery and enlightenment.

He tells of the opening of Louis XIV’s gardens at Versailles which was overrun by a n unruly mob, a faint premonition of the revolution to come. This book is not merely an episodic puff piece about the pretty objects and culture richness that were created on French soil. If you don’t like traditional history text or even if you do and just want an unusual take on people or time periods that have been covered thousands of times, this could be the read for you.Less comprehensive and more episodic, the author has compiled stories surrounding historical events they find of interest, expounding on them as a storyteller might. After all, this is a book that is supposed to be read and enjoyed, not an academic thesis to be substantiated and cited - or am I just too unsophisticated? Bhí sé ina Cheann Feadhna ar an champa géibhinn a raibh sé féin ina phríosúnach ann i dtuaisceart na Seapáine. In this new study of key moments in Venice's history, from its half-legendary founding amid the collapse of the Roman empire to its modern survival as a fragile city of the arts menaced by saturation tourism and rising sea levels, Jonathan Keates shows us just how much this remarkable place has contributed to world culture and explains how it endures as an object of desire and inspiration for so many.

She has been largely forgotten, but Robb’s description of her relationship with Louis Napoleon makes her come alive, and Robb contends that without her Napoleon would have become a complete unknown. For that really is the lingering impression of this book: in whatever ephemeral, run-of-the-mill place you happen to be, it may have been at one point either the location of a momentous event buried by the sands of time, or it may have been visited by — or was maybe even the home of — someone who enjoyed a moment of celebrity in some past era. He won the 1997 Whitbread Book Award for best biography (Victor Hugo) and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Rimbaud in 2001.

He connects the land to its history in a way that made me want to fly to France and see if I could follow his trail.

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