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The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World Warby Graham Robb
"Graham Robb is an engaging and gifted writer, known for his enjoyable and instructive biographies of Hugo and Rimbaud. Moreover, The Discovery of France is the sort of history that seems almost to have disappeared...written in a light and pleasant style, crammed with colorful and unexpected details, it offers what seem like tantalizing glimpses into a vanished, forgotten past. All the more pity that it is actually a distressingly bad book." David A. Bell, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
While Gustave Eiffel was changing the skyline of Paris, large parts of France were still terra incognita. Even in the age of railways and newspapers, France was a land of ancient tribal divisions, prehistoric communication networks, and pre-Christian beliefs. French itself was a minority language. Graham Robb describes that unknown world in arresting narrative detail. He recounts the epic journeys of mapmakers, scientists, soldiers, administrators, and intrepid tourists, of itinerant workers, pilgrims, and herdsmen with their millions of migratory domestic animals. We learn how France was explored, charted, and colonized, and how the imperial influence of Paris was gradually extended throughout a kingdom of isolated towns and villages. The Discovery of France explains how the modern nation came to be and how poorly understood that nation still is today. Above all, it shows how much of France--past and present--remains to be discovered.
"France is often regarded as the center of elegant civilization, so it's surprising to find that as late as 1890, most of the population was far from civilized — outside the confines of sophisticated Paris, as noted biographer Robb explains in his riveting exploration of France's historical geography, great swathes of countryside were terra incognita: dark places inhabited by illiterate tribes professing pre-Christian beliefs and lethally hostile to outsiders. They spoke not French but regional dialects; much of the country had not been accurately mapped; and many in the rural areas lacked surnames. The author himself embarked on a 14,000-mile bicycle tour of the France passed over in tourist guides. The result is a curious, engrossing mix of personal observation, scholarly diligence and historical narrative as Robb discusses the formation of both the French character and the French state. Robb's biographies of Victor Hugo, Rimbaud and Balzac were all selected by the New York Times as among the best books of the year, an accolade that assures a select readership will be eager to pack his newest alongside their Michelin guides. 8 pages of b&w illus, maps." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Drawing on his extensive bicycle journeys as well as research in the library, Robb, a British scholar of French literature and history, describes the lives of the inhabitants of France, when possible through their own eyes, and the exploration and colonization of their land by foreigners and natives from the late 17th century to the early 20th. He generally follows a chronological track, but finds himself betimes in pre-Roman Gaul or present-day France. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"A witty, engaging narrative style....[Robb's] approach is particularly engrossing."'"New York Times Book Review, front-page review.
A narrative of exploration--full of strange landscapes and even stranger inhabitants--that explains the enduring fascination of France.
About the Author
Graham Robb is the award-winning biographer of Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Rimbaud. His other books include The Discovery of France, Parisians, and Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century. He lives in Oxford, England.
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