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That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France: The History of a Love-Hate Relationship

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A brilliantly original account—narrated from both sides—of the love-hate relationship between Britain and France that began in the time of Louis XIV and shows no sign of abating. That Sweet Enemy brings both British wit (Robert Tombs is a British historian) and Gallic panache (Isabelle Tombs is a French historian) to bear on three centuries of the history of Britain and Fra A brilliantly original account—narrated from both sides—of the love-hate relationship between Britain and France that began in the time of Louis XIV and shows no sign of abating. That Sweet Enemy brings both British wit (Robert Tombs is a British historian) and Gallic panache (Isabelle Tombs is a French historian) to bear on three centuries of the history of Britain and France. The authors take us from Waterloo to Chirac’s slandering of British cooking, charting the cross-channel entanglement and its unparalleled breadth of cultural, economic and political influence. They illuminate the complexity of the relationship—rivalry, enmity, misapprehension and loathing mixed with envy, admiration and genuine affection—and the ways in which it has shaped the modern world, from North America to the Middle East to Southeast Asia, and is still shaping Europe today. They make clear that warfare between the two countries often went hand in hand with hardy, if hidden, strains of anglophilia and francophilia; conversely, though France and Britain were allies for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it has been an alliance almost as uneasy, as competitive and as ambivalent as the previous generations of warfare. Wonderfully written—acute, witty, consistently surprising—That Sweet Enemy is a triumph: an eye-opener for the experts, and a feast for the general reader.


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A brilliantly original account—narrated from both sides—of the love-hate relationship between Britain and France that began in the time of Louis XIV and shows no sign of abating. That Sweet Enemy brings both British wit (Robert Tombs is a British historian) and Gallic panache (Isabelle Tombs is a French historian) to bear on three centuries of the history of Britain and Fra A brilliantly original account—narrated from both sides—of the love-hate relationship between Britain and France that began in the time of Louis XIV and shows no sign of abating. That Sweet Enemy brings both British wit (Robert Tombs is a British historian) and Gallic panache (Isabelle Tombs is a French historian) to bear on three centuries of the history of Britain and France. The authors take us from Waterloo to Chirac’s slandering of British cooking, charting the cross-channel entanglement and its unparalleled breadth of cultural, economic and political influence. They illuminate the complexity of the relationship—rivalry, enmity, misapprehension and loathing mixed with envy, admiration and genuine affection—and the ways in which it has shaped the modern world, from North America to the Middle East to Southeast Asia, and is still shaping Europe today. They make clear that warfare between the two countries often went hand in hand with hardy, if hidden, strains of anglophilia and francophilia; conversely, though France and Britain were allies for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it has been an alliance almost as uneasy, as competitive and as ambivalent as the previous generations of warfare. Wonderfully written—acute, witty, consistently surprising—That Sweet Enemy is a triumph: an eye-opener for the experts, and a feast for the general reader.

30 review for That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France: The History of a Love-Hate Relationship

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Frustrating. Yet I felt somewhere around page 600 or 623 that this was entirely due to my own preconceptions, if I could have lets go of those then perhaps I could have enjoyed the book for what it was (view spoiler)[ a bulging sack of facts and narrative from the history of France and Britain (or possibly England) (hide spoiler)] , but with less then a hundred pages to go at that stage, it seemed a bit late. The argument of the book is that frequent wars are only one aspect of the deep mutual en Frustrating. Yet I felt somewhere around page 600 or 623 that this was entirely due to my own preconceptions, if I could have lets go of those then perhaps I could have enjoyed the book for what it was (view spoiler)[ a bulging sack of facts and narrative from the history of France and Britain (or possibly England) (hide spoiler)] , but with less then a hundred pages to go at that stage, it seemed a bit late. The argument of the book is that frequent wars are only one aspect of the deep mutual engagement and entanglement of British and French culture. That seems to be pretty self-evident to me, but the Tombs felt the need to bury the reader in 700 pages of text just to make sure that you don't miss their point, or perhaps they did it to entirely entomb their opinion as if shy of it. Each country in this view represents "The road not taken" to the other - although since this seems to be repeatedly if not continuously the case, one gets the impression that the roads in question always ran very close to one another, perhaps Tombs spots a distinctive unifier in describing them as Europe's Warrior nations, rare examples of countries that spend quite a lot on their armed forces (view spoiler)[ rather than being as he says content to punch below their weight and waste public money on something other than the military (hide spoiler)] . A joint commitment to the grandiose was I felt evidenced by the story of Concorde. Commercially that was a project that could only succeed by capturing committed buyers in far off countries which was precisely what they failed to. Yet that was the prestige project that both countries committed themselves to rather than building channel tunnels which would have mainly benefited the two countries involved unlike supersonic flight which only offered the potential to get away from each other faster. The Tombs approach reminded me of the head of history at school, Mrs H. (view spoiler)[ we called her Miss! Miss! as was traditional in school (hide spoiler)] who would say "Detail, detail" in her mild Northern Irish accent - she would emphasise her commitment to detail by stapling something to the wall (view spoiler)[generally not a fellow pupil or their clothing (hide spoiler)] . All of this detail is a bit of a pity as it obscures the very short and interesting book that is lost inside this one, perhaps though you delight in reading another retelling of the wars of Louis XIV, the war of American Independence, the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars? I though have recently read The command of the ocean - a book that Tombs references (view spoiler)[though Tombs prefers to say that one can't know the mind of Napoleon in contrast to Rodger who argues that war was a military and financial necessity which is at least a hypothesis which could be disproved (hide spoiler)] if I am going to dragged through another retelling of a century of warfare then it has to be better than what I am offered here. I had the feeling that nearly everything was treated as being of equal significance - as much space was given to discussing a failed assassination plot on Napoleon III as to the Crimean war - this is history as a grand parade in which everything gets it's spot in the sun. Then I noticed that according to Tombs many things typically regarded as French were apparently English imports, restaurants were apparently an imitation of London pubs, while Parisian nightlife were "often pale copies of London music halls" (p.372), the British contribution to French fashion, cuisine, sports and even prostitution is stressed, maybe Tombs is correct, but I began to recall a comedy show in which a character insists that everything and everybody famous is from India (an example) , and if he is correct, then surely the significance is not in the adoption but in the adaptation? Furthermore, what ever France adopts appears in his view to be worse than the original, so sport in France, for example, is both corrupt and overly bureaucratic in his opinion which swiftly lead me to imagine him singing, when discussing translation he tells us that more books may be translated from English into French but they are mostly merely textbooks and childrens' books - while in contrast when books are translated from French into English they are apparently worthier ones like Montaillou , when France overtakes Britain in GDP then of a suddenly decline can be fun and grandeur is a burden, consequently I found it hard to take Tombs seriously and I suspected him increasingly of being disingenuous (view spoiler)[for instance he mentions that David Hume visited France but does not mention his talks with French Jesuits which may have had a role in developing his thinking (hide spoiler)] . After all the book begins in 1688 - the point is that from then on England and then Britain began to influence and impress other Europeans rather than being influenced and impressed upon. I began to suspect that all of Tombs' vaunting aloud reflected a deeply felt sense of national inferiority. One begins to channel de Gaulle's Ne pleurez pas, Milord which he claimed to have been on the verge of singing to Harold Macmillan. It is a bit of a 'so what' book, best suited for the kind of English conservative who spends as much of their life in France as they can. However I thought that part two of the book was interesting(view spoiler)[ I enjoyed his story of Richardson's Clarrisa introducing new ideas about emotion which is an important influence on Rousseau (hide spoiler)] as were all of the detailed sections on a separate topics marked out in a slightly smaller font. I was somewhat less enamoured of the rest. Politically Tombs and I are a long way apart, since this book was published he has spoken and written in favour of Brexit and against the Erasmus EU student exchange scheme - I am not sure if he feels that the presence of EU students corrupts UK universities (or take up places that could go instead to Chinese or US students who could be charged more money) or if he believes spending time in the EU corrupts the lamb like innocence of British students. It is hard not to see the continuity between his book and his current positions.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Now, let me admit up front, That Sweet Enemy is a gimmick book. Ordinarily, that would be a big strike against it. But, while the central gimmick hits you in the face, the authors are so accomplished, their prose shines above it. What's the gimmick you may well ask? Well, the book is co-authored by a husband and wife team. The husband is an Englishman but an historian of France and a Francophile. The wife is French but an English historian and an Anglophile. It has all the makings of a bad sitco Now, let me admit up front, That Sweet Enemy is a gimmick book. Ordinarily, that would be a big strike against it. But, while the central gimmick hits you in the face, the authors are so accomplished, their prose shines above it. What's the gimmick you may well ask? Well, the book is co-authored by a husband and wife team. The husband is an Englishman but an historian of France and a Francophile. The wife is French but an English historian and an Anglophile. It has all the makings of a bad sitcom when they write a book together on the long historical relationship between England and France. But, as I said, while you can't miss the gimmick, its OK. Because this book is brimming over with superb insight and anecdote. While the book cannot avoid discussing the impact of Louise the XIV, Waterloo and Dunkirk on the relationship between the two peoples, that is not the genius of this history. Where you really gain some insight about "Britishness" and "Frenchness" is in the engrossing passages about cross cultural currents. How did the French receive Shakespere? How did the English view Zola? What about the interplay of ideas of government? How did England go from the radical state in Europe and France the paragon of tradition to the reverse? Of course, the modern context is also fascinating -- DeGaulle vs. Churchill, Blair vs. Chirac. The great debate of a broader or deeper Europe. Its all in here. You come away from this tomb with an important realization. The relationship between these two people has fundamentally shaped modern history. As the French frequently saw it, the two countries are the modern versions of Carthage and Rome. Their timeless rivalry gave shape and meaning to the struggles of the last three centuries. Oddly, rivalry is exactly the correct term for this relationship. It denotes competition and struggle. But, it also connotes grudging respect, a degree of admiration and even immitation. These are two nations that have essentially defined themselves by contrast. What is it to be British -- not to be French. What is it to be French -- anything but English. That process of definition has come at great cost to both countries. But it also has given birth to some excellent developments in world history -- the birth of our country, the rise of individual liberty, the defeat of totalitarianism in Europe are all aspects of their relationship. The great thing is, this is an epic story which still is ongoing. I must say that I haven't read a narrative so epic but so engaging since Guns, Germs and Steel. If anything, this is better. To the readers of this site, my only recommendation is to grab it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    Written by a husband and wife team of historians--the wife a French historian of Britain and the husband a British historian of France--the book is well-balanced by their disagreements. From loathing to love from hatred to imitation, the two countries have swayed from side to side in their relationship--sometimes feeling both at the same time. The Tombs do a very good job of showing things from both sides of the Channel.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia

    Seriously, it has taken me 4 years to get through it because it runs like a shopping lists. It is well researched and historically/factually correct (very english) but it has no humour and seems to just be trying to prove a point about how ace they all think they are. Luckily for all, neither one of them has an empire to speak of so ....if I were you I'd spend more time understanding the 6000 yrs of tension between China & India and how the Persians & Mongols & Tibetans (and even the Egyptians & Seriously, it has taken me 4 years to get through it because it runs like a shopping lists. It is well researched and historically/factually correct (very english) but it has no humour and seems to just be trying to prove a point about how ace they all think they are. Luckily for all, neither one of them has an empire to speak of so ....if I were you I'd spend more time understanding the 6000 yrs of tension between China & India and how the Persians & Mongols & Tibetans (and even the Egyptians & Italians) got mixed up in their bickering & incessant trade war & industrial espionage throughout the centuries! Afterall it is now clearly established that some Chinese dude discovered America first...so all that Europhile version of history needs to have a look at its own "naivety". I found it boring, as I do aspects of both culture...due to the repetition of the book. Ad naseum. www.ceciliayu.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    I put this book on my "to read" list because I saw this review: "...deeply researched, elegantly written, culturally literate, multidisciplinary, coherent, thoughtful, and balanced...... fresh and original, politically engaged but never tendentious... one of the most important and engaging books of the year..." -- Foreign Affairs Magazine, Jul/Aug 07 and, having finished, I have no quarrel with it. The book was a pleasure to read, from beginning to end. Although there are large, very readable, par I put this book on my "to read" list because I saw this review: "...deeply researched, elegantly written, culturally literate, multidisciplinary, coherent, thoughtful, and balanced...... fresh and original, politically engaged but never tendentious... one of the most important and engaging books of the year..." -- Foreign Affairs Magazine, Jul/Aug 07 and, having finished, I have no quarrel with it. The book was a pleasure to read, from beginning to end. Although there are large, very readable, parts devoted to the political and economic lives of the two nations, starting about 1680 and continuing through the second Iraq war, the most interesting bits were often asides about the now forgotten popular culture trends and personalities of long ago, e.g., Harriet Howard, Victorian-era daughter of an English publican who became a consort of the leader of France. Although this book is nominally about England and France, the pair it brought to my mind was Herodotus and Thucydides, both of whom are sometimes called “The Father of History”. They have wildly varying styles, and those who admire one of the pair often are not so fond of the other. Specifically, Herodotus is from the Attention Deficit Disorder school of historical writing, so reading him is sort of like being with a friend who has just returned from a fascinating trip and is tugging at your sleeve and saying “Oh, oh, oh, and then...”. Thucydides, by comparison, is damned to the deepest rings of hell as the father of self-serving historical writing, in which all facts are used, bent, or ignored to further the writer's thesis. Every time you see some geek's political memoir (as of this writing, the latest example of this awful genre is Karl Rove's) crowding worthwhile books off the shelves of your favorite dying bookstore, you may thank Thucydides. Your opinion of this book could be predicted by knowing which of the two you prefer. I like Herodotus, and I enjoyed this book. Thucydides's admirers are free to go read Karl Rove's memoir.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    This is a pretty good study of the love/hate relationship between Britain and France, from the Glorious Revolution to the present day. For those who like a broad stroke study of these two countries, this may be an appealing choice. For those who prefer an emphasis on social and domestic aspects, this will be something of a disappointment as the majority of the book covers military, political and general economic dynamics between the two countries. There is some discussion of how each affected th This is a pretty good study of the love/hate relationship between Britain and France, from the Glorious Revolution to the present day. For those who like a broad stroke study of these two countries, this may be an appealing choice. For those who prefer an emphasis on social and domestic aspects, this will be something of a disappointment as the majority of the book covers military, political and general economic dynamics between the two countries. There is some discussion of how each affected the culture of the other, but this was by no means the core of the book. A good overview of the two countries and how they help shape each other.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tarah Luke

    This is very good, a great attempt at explaining a very long and complex relationship between the two greatest and oldest nations in Europe. I’m sure the Tombs’ could not help this, but I absolutely hated the endnotes and found them very frustrating, which is why I took off a star. Also, I don’t understand the reasoning for beginning during the 17th c. as opposed to earlier or later (which would have made either a much longer or much shorter book). I think it would’ve been interesting to have se This is very good, a great attempt at explaining a very long and complex relationship between the two greatest and oldest nations in Europe. I’m sure the Tombs’ could not help this, but I absolutely hated the endnotes and found them very frustrating, which is why I took off a star. Also, I don’t understand the reasoning for beginning during the 17th c. as opposed to earlier or later (which would have made either a much longer or much shorter book). I think it would’ve been interesting to have seen an account like this during the 13-16th c., but maybe that isn’t in their fields of study.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gerry

    'Round about page 42, I realized that I just wasn't interested. To me, it's just 700+ pages of "so what"? It's--I guess--a history of a relationship, but not enough history of the specifics to interest me. YMMV. 'Round about page 42, I realized that I just wasn't interested. To me, it's just 700+ pages of "so what"? It's--I guess--a history of a relationship, but not enough history of the specifics to interest me. YMMV.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    Not a bad book but too long for what it is.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Fabulous book! Very thought provoking and more than one "light bulb" went on for me regarding the Franco-English long history together. Highly recommend. Fabulous book! Very thought provoking and more than one "light bulb" went on for me regarding the Franco-English long history together. Highly recommend.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Sweeney

    This book is a pleasure to read, and has filled in many gaps in my historical understanding. It has many interesting diversions (the British loss of Minorca leading to the creation of Mayonnaise sauce for instance). A stand out for me was how France viewed the American War of Independence as a great national victory. The Anglo-Saxon world often views it as doughty independent minded colonists taking on a burdensome overlord. Much more was in play. It is refreshing to see British history from a F This book is a pleasure to read, and has filled in many gaps in my historical understanding. It has many interesting diversions (the British loss of Minorca leading to the creation of Mayonnaise sauce for instance). A stand out for me was how France viewed the American War of Independence as a great national victory. The Anglo-Saxon world often views it as doughty independent minded colonists taking on a burdensome overlord. Much more was in play. It is refreshing to see British history from a French perspective.

  12. 5 out of 5

    M A H THOMLINSON

    One of the best books I've ever read, including fiction and non-fiction. Told with lots of good anecdotes to keep the narrative flowing, I was surprised by how much I learnt about Britain's history (and therefore by how little I had really learnt at school), and gained a new appreciation for the importance of France for the British; and the importance of England for the French. It's big, though, took me a while! One of the best books I've ever read, including fiction and non-fiction. Told with lots of good anecdotes to keep the narrative flowing, I was surprised by how much I learnt about Britain's history (and therefore by how little I had really learnt at school), and gained a new appreciation for the importance of France for the British; and the importance of England for the French. It's big, though, took me a while!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    By focusing on these two "characters," time telescopes in a way. The final chapter - written after France rejected the European Constitution, but before the UK left the EU - has a sense of dramatic irony. And coming at the end of a 300-year-long history highlights how momentary current events can be. By focusing on these two "characters," time telescopes in a way. The final chapter - written after France rejected the European Constitution, but before the UK left the EU - has a sense of dramatic irony. And coming at the end of a 300-year-long history highlights how momentary current events can be.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ilia

    This book was recommended to me some time ago, and I purchased a copy, only to have it sit on my desk and daunt me with its girth for over a month. I've finally picked it up and made my way through it - which at times was a bit of an effort. In the end, I'm glad that I persevered. It was worth the struggle. For anyone interested in history - military, economic, political, and cultural, this is an excellent read. The breadth of its scope is quite fantastic, and the ability of the text to go betwee This book was recommended to me some time ago, and I purchased a copy, only to have it sit on my desk and daunt me with its girth for over a month. I've finally picked it up and made my way through it - which at times was a bit of an effort. In the end, I'm glad that I persevered. It was worth the struggle. For anyone interested in history - military, economic, political, and cultural, this is an excellent read. The breadth of its scope is quite fantastic, and the ability of the text to go between grand historical currents to intimate observations of ordinary people of the time is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of the two nations developing their cultural identities through the cross-channel opposition, and the ebb and flow of these cultural identities over the course of centuries. At times, it does seem overwhelming. Names, dates, and events at times blur; though perhaps that is inevitable with any narrative of history, which, though it does not repeat itself, "often rhymes". The pace can be rather unrelenting; I would have loved to linger over certain periods or personalities and explore them in more detail, but that would make the book even more unwieldy. Overall, I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning about the past, or in contextualizing the present. As long as they are not afraid of a serious time commitment.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    A general social/political history of the relationship between France and Britain (mainly England) and the French and the British themselves, from the 17th century to now. It is the story of a love-hate relationship between two countries and two peoples who have so much in common but like to point the finger and laugh at the little differences. Interesting read. Loses a bit of structure towards the end when it gets bogged down in modern politics, but that is almost to be expected. First half is ve A general social/political history of the relationship between France and Britain (mainly England) and the French and the British themselves, from the 17th century to now. It is the story of a love-hate relationship between two countries and two peoples who have so much in common but like to point the finger and laugh at the little differences. Interesting read. Loses a bit of structure towards the end when it gets bogged down in modern politics, but that is almost to be expected. First half is very good, with quite a few little nuggets. Not a short read, though. Rated G (though with some adult themes). 3/5

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Very detailed and interesting account of the long and tempestuous relationship between the British and French over the past 300 or so years. Covering such aspects as politics, warfare, culture, language, and the mutual admiration/distrust of both countries, it is also notable for being jointly written by a husband and wife, one of whom is French and the other British. Not a light read by any means, but well written and full of interesting historical information for anyone keen to know more about Very detailed and interesting account of the long and tempestuous relationship between the British and French over the past 300 or so years. Covering such aspects as politics, warfare, culture, language, and the mutual admiration/distrust of both countries, it is also notable for being jointly written by a husband and wife, one of whom is French and the other British. Not a light read by any means, but well written and full of interesting historical information for anyone keen to know more about the subject.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jj

    Holy details batman- the only thing missing was the recipes for the meals the subjects ate! But still a very interesting read for any British an European history buffs .

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ted Hillary

    Very interesting and detailed.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    This book was amazing! I highly suggest to anyone interested in British/French history and their relationships.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Zaeem

    A beautiful read for history fanatics. Yet, a bit too detailed even for my taste of history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Wilson Tomba

  22. 5 out of 5

    James Slattery

  23. 5 out of 5

    Paula Jarnot

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  25. 5 out of 5

    sardit

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Watts

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joeji

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Gilmore

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