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France: An Adventure History


France: An Adventure History

FRANCE is an entertaining, though demanding, history of France, from the first-century BC to the present day. It is based on author Graham Robb’s 30 years of exploring the country as an intrepid bicyclist and researcher.

Especially in the early chapters, readers will want to refer to both the maps at the back of the book and a contemporary map in order to understand where the various invaders and tribes were positioned. There are also “Notes for Travellers” for those who want to retrace Robb’s steps.

"Part travelogue and part essay, this is a lively and thought-provoking homage to the complex and inimitable country that is France."

While each chapter is a self-contained story, within those chapters the narrative moves between Robb and his wife Margaret’s adventures and those that took place hundreds of years earlier. His observations about France are fascinating. He talks about why the southeast is more violent than other parts of the country; how anti-clericalism existed long before, and after, the Revolution; and why the country’s obsession with Paris’s predominance from the 12th century to the present was in part the result of how much writing about France --- literary, historiographical, legal --- emanated from the City of Light. He uses the journal of 18th-century Paris-born wanderer Jacques-Louis Ménétra to illustrate his point.

Robb is not afraid to weigh in on contemporary issues such as climate change and rampant development, as well as politics. 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.”

Robb is an obsessive researcher. In discussing the Cathars, he describes maps that feature a particular tree, then shows all the guidebooks and maps from the 16th century on featuring that tree. While readers will find the usual faces, events and themes of French history --- Louis XIV, the French Revolution, the Vichy regime and La Résistance, the Tour de France --- many new events, locales and individuals are explored as well.

Part travelogue and part essay, this is a lively and thought-provoking homage to the complex and inimitable country that is France.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on August 5, 2022

France: An Adventure History
by Graham Robb

  • Publication Date: July 11, 2023
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 1324064692
  • ISBN-13: 9781324064695