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I can still feel, as if it were yesterday, the excitement of my first Channel crossing (as a child of nearly 7) in September 1936; the regiment of porters, smelling asphyxiatingly of garlic in their blue-green blousons; the raucous sound all around me of spoken French; the immense fields of Normandy strangely devoid of hedges; then the Gare du Nord at twilight, the poli I can still feel, as if it were yesterday, the excitement of my first Channel crossing (as a child of nearly 7) in September 1936; the regiment of porters, smelling asphyxiatingly of garlic in their blue-green blousons; the raucous sound all around me of spoken French; the immense fields of Normandy strangely devoid of hedges; then the Gare du Nord at twilight, the policemen with their képis and their little snow-white batons; and my first sight of the Eiffel Tower...This book is written in the belief that the average English-speaking man or woman has remarkably little knowledge of French history. We may know a bit about Napoleon or Joan of Arc or Louis XIV, but for most of us that's about it. In my own three schools we were taught only about the battles we won: Crécy and Poitiers, Agincourt and Waterloo. The rest was silence. So here is my attempt to fill in the blanks... John Julius Norwich (at 88) has finally written the book he always wanted to write, the extremely colourful story of the country he loves best. From frowning Roman generals and belligerent Gallic chieftains, to Charlemagne (hated by generations of French children taught that he invented schools) through Marie Antoinette and the storming of the Bastille to Vichy, the Resistance and beyond, FRANCE is packed with heroes and villains, adventures and battles, romance and revolution. Full of memorable stories and racy anecdotes, this is the perfect introduction to the country that has inspired the rest of the world to live, dress, eat -- and love better.


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I can still feel, as if it were yesterday, the excitement of my first Channel crossing (as a child of nearly 7) in September 1936; the regiment of porters, smelling asphyxiatingly of garlic in their blue-green blousons; the raucous sound all around me of spoken French; the immense fields of Normandy strangely devoid of hedges; then the Gare du Nord at twilight, the poli I can still feel, as if it were yesterday, the excitement of my first Channel crossing (as a child of nearly 7) in September 1936; the regiment of porters, smelling asphyxiatingly of garlic in their blue-green blousons; the raucous sound all around me of spoken French; the immense fields of Normandy strangely devoid of hedges; then the Gare du Nord at twilight, the policemen with their képis and their little snow-white batons; and my first sight of the Eiffel Tower...This book is written in the belief that the average English-speaking man or woman has remarkably little knowledge of French history. We may know a bit about Napoleon or Joan of Arc or Louis XIV, but for most of us that's about it. In my own three schools we were taught only about the battles we won: Crécy and Poitiers, Agincourt and Waterloo. The rest was silence. So here is my attempt to fill in the blanks... John Julius Norwich (at 88) has finally written the book he always wanted to write, the extremely colourful story of the country he loves best. From frowning Roman generals and belligerent Gallic chieftains, to Charlemagne (hated by generations of French children taught that he invented schools) through Marie Antoinette and the storming of the Bastille to Vichy, the Resistance and beyond, FRANCE is packed with heroes and villains, adventures and battles, romance and revolution. Full of memorable stories and racy anecdotes, this is the perfect introduction to the country that has inspired the rest of the world to live, dress, eat -- and love better.

30 review for France: A History: from Gaul to de Gaulle

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sumit RK

    “La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur” “France cannot be France without greatness.” ~ Charles de Gaulle A History of France is a concise, fast-paced yet insightful overview of the history of France by John Julius Norwich. Described as a “true master of narrative history”, Norwich proves once again why he truly deserves the title. “A History of France” is sadly his last work: Lord Norwich died in June at the age of 88. From Julius Caesar in Gaul to De Gaulle, The book covers nearly “La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur” “France cannot be France without greatness.” ~ Charles de Gaulle A History of France is a concise, fast-paced yet insightful overview of the history of France by John Julius Norwich. Described as a “true master of narrative history”, Norwich proves once again why he truly deserves the title. “A History of France” is sadly his last work: Lord Norwich died in June at the age of 88. From Julius Caesar in Gaul to De Gaulle, The book covers nearly 2000 years of French history in about 400 pages. This book does not start with prehistorical France as the author aptly puts “Pre-history belongs to the Historians”. Instead we begin with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul in the first century BC. From Vercingetorix's attempt to unite the Gauls against the Roman Empire to Charlemagne and from Francis I to Napoleon, Norwich chronicles France’s fascinating history. Some of the highlights include the coronation of Charlemagne; the Crusades in Holy Lands, The Hundred Years War, The French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, The Second & Third Republic and the finally the Two World Wars. The book can be divided into 2 parts; The first part covers the dark & medieval ages from Clovis I, the Capetian dynasty, the House of Valois up-to Napoleon III with 16 Louises in between. The second half covers the French Revolution, Civil Wars and the 2 World wars till the liberation of France from Nazi occupation in 1944. The narration is informative and full of wit & humor which make the book immensely readable. The entire book is full of character sketches and peppered with interesting anecdotes and stories of kings & other politicians including Robert the Pious, Louis the Fat and Philip the Fair among others. Sample this: When Louis XVI was woken with news of the storming of the Bastille he sleepily asked: "Is it a Rebellion?" "No," replied Duc de la Rochefoucauld, "it's a Revolution." While the stories are entertaining, you feel the book is focused more on kings and emperors and their personal affairs than politics of the time. It would had been great to read more about some more great battles, French Renaissance & the Enlightenment Era, French colonisation in US & Asia instead. If you are looking for in-depth history of France, this book may not be ideal for you. Having said that, Norwich's book is for the general public, not for the historians. It is to be read as a general history book but not as an historical document. The author deserves full credit for his efforts in simplifying the French history (especially the French revolution and history of the Second & Third Republic). Above all, the book is written by someone who loves France. The author attributes his love of France to childhood travels and to his early life in France and the book reflects that passion. This book is a sort of ‘thank-offering to France’ for all the happiness that glorious country has given him over the years. The digital review copy I received didn’t have any maps or pictures but the physical copy is said to be well illustrated, and has maps, notes and suggestions for Further Reading which will surely add immense value to the book. Overall if you love History and want a brief overview of the history of France, this book is ideal. I have never enjoyed reading a history book more than this one. Many Thanks to Grove Atlantic for the ARC.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Max

    John Julius Norwich was a prolific author whose first book was published in 1966. This, his last, was published shortly after his death at 88 in 2018. His father, Duff Cooper, became the British ambassador to France when the Germans were driven out of Paris in 1944. Norwich went with him there as a teenager. Norwich was taught French beginning at five years old and clearly has great affection for France. In the preface he notes that this would be the last book he wrote and the one he had always John Julius Norwich was a prolific author whose first book was published in 1966. This, his last, was published shortly after his death at 88 in 2018. His father, Duff Cooper, became the British ambassador to France when the Germans were driven out of Paris in 1944. Norwich went with him there as a teenager. Norwich was taught French beginning at five years old and clearly has great affection for France. In the preface he notes that this would be the last book he wrote and the one he had always wanted to write. I had read his A Short History of Byzantium because I knew almost nothing about Byzantium. I read this book because I had so many blanks to fill in regarding French history. I have read about the Hundred Years War, French Revolution, Napoleon, WWI and WWII. This short volume not only filled in the blanks, it put those events in context. For providing that continuity I found the book very worthwhile. Norwich’s 400 page history of France skips quickly through the centuries. You get a long term perspective seeing how France came together as a nation and formed a national identity that persisted into modern times. Norwich does not cover the arts and culture. This is a book about internal politics and geopolitics with a focus on the kings and leaders. He describes their personal relationships filling in with anecdotal details to maintain your interest. He shows how their personality and character affected the fortunes of France. My notes follow. Norwich starts with Vercingetorix who defeated Caesar in 54 BC. Caesar soon avenged the defeat and took Vercingetorix prisoner back to Rome. But Norwich sees him as the first to organize Gallic tribes for mutual defense. In 481 with Roman power gone, Clovis, the first Merovingian king, united Gaul under his rule. Clovis and his wife Clotilde were ethnic Franks. Clovis gave not only the country its name but many of its kings. Louis is a later version of Clovis. The last Merovingian king was taken down in the 8th century by Pepin the Short who established the Carolingian dynasty, the most famous member being Charlemagne. In the tenth century Hugh Capet took over establishing Capetian rule. The House of Capet ruled until the fourteenth century and its cadet branches, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon would rule until the Revolution in 1789. Norwich skims through the dark ages with discussions of the crusades and the fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1137 she married Louis VII bringing her dowry of southwest France. But she divorced him in 1152 and eight weeks later married the French born English King Henry II who established the Plantagenet dynasty. Her land added to Henry’s gave him control over the Angevin Empire, half of what is today France. Then in 1180 Philip II known as Philip Augustus became King of France. With England including its half of France on one side and the Holy Roman Empire on the other, a slenderized France was in peril. In Philip’s forty year reign he would defeat both. Philip’s victories sent Henry and Eleanor’s son, King John, back to England in disgrace where he had to sign the Magna Carta in 1216. Philip Augustus turned a shriveled France into an organized and powerful nation. As Norwich notes, he is today the only French king with a Paris metro station named after him. However, the dispute over control of land on the continent was not over. Over a century later Edward III and Philip VI were ready to go to war over it. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) ensued. The English soundly defeated the French in important battles at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt. But in the end they lost to Charles VII, retaining only Calais. In part the French won due to an emerging French national identity which the English by harsh treatment of the French people helped create. The inspiration of Joan of Arc buoyed the French spirit. A revitalized French army, shifting alliances and war weariness were important factors leading to peace. Charles VII became a powerful king. Perhaps the real end to the war was an agreement between Charles’ son Louis XI and Edward IV signed in 1475 which in return for payments Edward renounced his claims to the French throne. Louis went on to lead France to prosperity. The war marked the height and the end of the age of chivalry. French nights in armor and their troops with crossbows were no match for the English longbow which could be reloaded quickly and penetrated armor. Warfare was changing. In a battle in 1525 at Pavia in Italy French king Francis I led his troops including Swiss mercenaries against the Spanish and German troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Spanish guns prevailed over Swiss pikes in a battle which left 14,000 dead. Francis’ army was annihilated and he was taken prisoner. Italy was a perennial battleground for France and other powers with the Pope always trying to balance one against the other as they fought over possession of Italy’s many principalities. The second half of the sixteenth century in France was dominated by religious wars as Protestantism grew rapidly. Particularly horrendous was St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which Catholic mobs killed as many as 30,000 Huguenots (French Calvinists). The country was essentially in a civil war with violence on both sides. Millions died in the fighting and resultant famine and disease. In 1592 Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes which gave Huguenots religious rights, but they still felt like second class citizens. In 1610 eight year old Louis XIII assumed the throne. He would be one of three French kings to rule the next 164 years. The major event during his 33 year reign was the Thirty Years’ War. Initiated by the Holy Roman Emperor, it was another Catholic-Protestant religious war dividing Germany and engulfing Europe in which eight million died. Fortunately for Louis, he had the skillful guidance of Cardinal Richelieu, to help him navigate it. France only entered at the end and then on the side of the Protestant countries despite France’s and Richelieu’s Catholicism. The fear of a powerful Holy Roman Empire prevailed over religious identity. In 1643 Louis XIII died and his son four year old Louis XIV, the sun king, was placed on the throne where he stayed for 72 years. In 1648 the people of Paris rebelled against the exorbitant taxation of the governing regency of his mother and her minister Cardinal Mazarin who had succeeded Richelieu. Known as the Fronde, it turned into civil war foreshadowing what would ensue in 1789. When crowned in 1654 Louis took charge. His priority was keeping the nobles in check. He started building on to Versailles, conducting business there and keeping the nobles close. The nobles soon learned that their success was at Louis’ pleasure. His biggest mistake was renouncing the Edict of Nantes in 1685 making Protestantism illegal. Hundreds of thousands of the most capable people in France left for England, Switzerland and other Protestant countries undermining the economy. The War of Spanish Succession broke out in 1701. It was fought between France and the Grand Alliance of Austria and the Dutch Republic which were afraid of a France and Spain under one king. Louis XIV’s grandson had assumed the Spanish throne. If he hadn’t, the Austrians would have taken it. The English wanted neither to get it. This was another costly war over the balance of power in Europe that lasted until 1714. In the peace agreement Philip was allowed to keep the Spanish throne, but had to renounce his rights to the French throne. Louis died in 1715, considered one of France’s great kings; his legacy was an absolute monarchy and a powerful France Louis XIV’s two year old great grandson became Louis XV. He was on the throne for 59 years. Lazy, preoccupied with hunting and his many mistresses he mostly left affairs of state to others. During his reign France entered into two wars, The War of Austrian Succession and The Seven Years War. France fared badly in both with Louis inexplicably giving up his gains in the first and losing much of North America to England in the second. The people were not sorry to see him go. He died in 1774. His grandson, twenty year old Louis XVI took over. At fifteen he had married the fourteen year old archduchess of Austria, Maria Antonia, better known as Marie Antoinette. As an Austrian she was immediately unpopular. Louis didn’t care much for her either. He would wait seven years to consummate the marriage. The people of France were dirt poor and suffering badly. They were taxed by the government and the church, yet the church hierarchy was rich and paid no taxes, neither did the nobles who exploited the peasants. Louis and Marie were estranged from the people, ensconced in Versailles living in splendor. They had no idea what was going on outside of Versailles. This was the age of the enlightenment, an age that produced Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot. And the people had the example of the United States, a revolution which France had fought for. The Third Estate would not be denied. In the most engaging two chapters in the book, Norwich describes the revolution, the mobs and the reactions of Louis and his wife and Louis’ execution in 1793 followed by Marie’s the same year. He discusses the National Convention, the Jacobins and leading figures such as Danton, Marat and particularly Robespierre in a succinct review. We get an account of the rise of Napoleon beginning in 1795 when he put down an insurrection in Paris. Norwich briefly covers the expedition to Egypt, some of the battles including Austerlitz and the invasion of Russia. In 1814 after Napoleon’s exile to Elba, Louis XVI’s younger brother came to Paris declaring himself Louis XVIII. Louis XVII, Louis XVI’s nephew, had died in prison in 1795. Louis XVIII proposed a charter which was adopted and included a bill of rights and establishment of a bicameral legislature. Louis hightailed it during Napoleon’s Hundred Days, but returned with Wellington’s approval after Waterloo and Napoleon’s exile to St. Helena. Louis died in 1824, his reign was restrained, perhaps most notable for not inciting the public when many of his monarchist friends were out for retribution. Charles X, younger brother to Louis XVI, succeeded Louis XVIII. Charles tried to impose the pre-revolution monarchy. In January 1830 Charles invaded Algeria, designed as a diversion from his hated home rule. The French occupation lasted until 1962. Charles in 1830 disenfranchised voters and tried to shut down the opposition press leading to the riots of 1830. Fortunately his best troops were in Algeria and he was deposed. Charles was succeeded by a remote cousin, Louis-Philippe I, backed by the influential 75 year old Lafayette and the business community. Louis-Philippe was crowned the king of the French, not the King of France. He eschewed showy displays and uniforms. His presence was subdued, but there was still plenty of tumult during his reign starting with the riot of 1832 depicted in the climax of Les Miserable. Fortunately he had a politically astute sister Adelaide to guide him who luckily also got along exceedingly well with his wife. An anglophile, Louis-Philippe appointed the controversial Talleyrand as his ambassador to England. Talleyrand would send dispatches directly to Adelaide knowing she would share them with the king. Her untimely death in 1847 meant Louis-Philippe was on his own to navigate the revolution of 1848, one of 14 to take place throughout Europe. He abdicated and the Second Republic was declared by the provisional government. Prince Louis-Napoleon, Napoleon’s nephew, had already attempted two coups and been imprisoned before escaping to England. He returned to Paris to run for president, now according to a new constitution decided by a direct vote. He won overwhelmingly with 74% of the vote and chose to be called Prince-President. The term was four years. Again France got involved in an Italian war, this time to save the Pope from Garibaldi and a united Italy which threatened the Pope’s Papal States. In 1852, not willing to give up his presidency, Louis-Napoleon orchestrated a coup which engendered only token opposition. He ratified it with a plebiscite which easily went in his favor and declared himself “Napoleon III, Emperor of the French by the Grace of God and the Will of the People.” He ordered Georges Haussmann to build a new Paris, who we can thank for the wide boulevards. He joined England in the Crimean war in 1853. He was able to charm Queen Victoria on mutual state visits. This was quite a feat. The English had not forgotten his uncle. In 1859 Louis-Napoleon orchestrated a needless war. He took command of his troops joining Piedmont and Garibaldi against Austria which controlled Lombardy. The Austrians were overwhelmed and Louis-Napoleon quickly ended the war fearing Prussian entry. But gains were limited and casualties were heavy, something Louis-Napoleon took to heart. Next Bismarck set up Louis-Napoleon, first by talking him into not helping Austria if Prussia attacked it. He agreed for nothing in return. Then when Bismark was ready to go to war with France, he engineered a telegram to raise hostility on both sides which it did. In 1870 Louis-Napoleon fell for the bait declaring war on Prussia, which because it was attacked drew in other German states leading to German unification, Bismarck’s goal from the beginning. France was completely unprepared against a superbly prepared Prussia. In 1870 Louis-Napoleon surrendered to prevent the slaughter of tens of thousands of French troops. A new French provisional government was formed, the Third Republic which lasted seventy years. It fought on finally agreeing in January 1871 to an armistice on German terms following a lengthy siege of Paris which left its citizens starving. In March as the provisional government attempted to disarm the National Guard in Paris, rebellion ensued forming the Commune precipitating executions and violence as its members disavowed the government. The government operating out of Versailles reconstituted an army which reciprocated the violence of the Commune as it took over Paris ending a horrible chapter in French history. Norwich goes on to the financial scandal around the attempt to build the Panama Canal, the Dreyfus affair and a couple of other scandals. His accounts of WWI and WWII focus on the internal politics and profiles of the leading French figures. Norwich pays particular attention to the difficult Charles de Gaulle who he met while living with his father in Paris. Norwich stops there since he doesn’t consider the times he can remember history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Numidica

    This is a wonderful, accessible one-volume history of France for busy people. John Norwich had a unique perspective on France as the son of the WW2 British Ambassador to France, Duff Cooper; his early immersion in the affairs and language of France informs his understanding and gives life to his narration of history. Honestly, the Medieval history is full of dull, sad stories (as was the entire epoch) with a few exceptions, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, but Norwich shines in his recitation of the e This is a wonderful, accessible one-volume history of France for busy people. John Norwich had a unique perspective on France as the son of the WW2 British Ambassador to France, Duff Cooper; his early immersion in the affairs and language of France informs his understanding and gives life to his narration of history. Honestly, the Medieval history is full of dull, sad stories (as was the entire epoch) with a few exceptions, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, but Norwich shines in his recitation of the exploits of French leaders from Francois Premier to DeGaulle. He gives Louis-Philippe his due (a king whom I spent at most three minutes considering in my college European History course), and makes the period from Napoleon to WW1 much clearer to me; I had not realized the high level of competence of the French governments from Louis-Philippe up until Napoleon III's disaster at Sedan. The tragedy of the Occupation is dealt with from the heart, as Norwich was often a witness, after the war, to the presentation by his father of the King's Medal for Courage to members of the Resistance - the few who survived. As one who has been studying the French language as a hobby for ten years, John Norwich makes me feel a little better by noting that French is undoubtedly the most difficult of the Romance languages for a foreigner to master. In his straightforward gratitude for the contributions of France to the world in every sphere - the arts, government, medicine, philosophy, engineering, sciences, and of course, cuisine, he convincingly explains the rewards of knowing French and France. I have already found myself going back to this book to refresh my memory on a particular event or revisit one of his better turns of phrase. Again, this book is a readable history for those who want know the overarching story of France's history, not a book for specialists; I enjoyed the clear writing, and the writer's transparent love of his subject.

  4. 4 out of 5

    happy

    With his final book, John Norwich; who passed away just about the time this was published, once again delivers a very readable and entertaining look at history. This narrative looks at the history of France from the time of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul to the end of World War II and the rise of Charles DeGualle, appox 2000 yrs. Coming in at just under 400 pages of text in the edition that I read, this history is by no means comprehensive. In fact, he covers the time from Caesar to Charlemagn With his final book, John Norwich; who passed away just about the time this was published, once again delivers a very readable and entertaining look at history. This narrative looks at the history of France from the time of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul to the end of World War II and the rise of Charles DeGualle, appox 2000 yrs. Coming in at just under 400 pages of text in the edition that I read, this history is by no means comprehensive. In fact, he covers the time from Caesar to Charlemagne in just 14 pages! He takes only 18 pages to cover next 300 years. The pace slows down a bit after that and as the narrative comes closer to the present, Mr. Norwich does cover events more in depth. Mr Norwich’s writing style is almost conversational. He digresses at points, sometimes wanders off on tangents for a paragraph or two. When he does this, he comes back to the topic at hand with a comment to the effect of, well that really isn’t the point of this book, so let’s get back to the topic. As I mentioned above, the page count is quite short, so this is mainly a French political history. The French cultural contributions are hardly mentioned. He covers all the Kings and gives his opinion on what kind of ruler they were. The ones he considers important to France becoming a nation state, are covered much more in depth. Those Kings include various Louis’ (including maybe the most important Louis – Louis XIV) His coverage of the French Revolution is also well done. Mr. Norwich looks both the how and why of the revolution, as well as how it devolved from the high ideals that it started with to Napoleon crowing himself Emperor in 1801 in 12 yrs. In addition to the public lives of the various rulers, the author give a peek at their private ones as well. He gossips about the relationships the Kings had with their Queens as well as their many, many mistresses. In discussing the Royal Mistresses, he tells how being the King’s Mistress almost became an official court position. In many cases they became important and valued advisors. In relating the tales of their personal lives, the author shares some vary salacious tales. As the story reaches the 19th century, the author gets a bit more in-depth in his story telling. He does a superb job of telling of the end of the Bourbon dynasty. Surprisingly, the author considers the last King of France, Louis-Phillippe, one of the better Kings. The author's opinion is that he was head and shoulders above his immediate predecessors. The rise of Napoleon III and his political demise is also covered as well as the various Republics. Finally, the author choses to end his narrative with end of World War II and the rise of De Gaulle. His stated reason for ending with WW II is that he has memories of the people and events, so the story is no longer history. As the son of British Ambassador to France during and immediately after the war, Mr. Norwich actually met the General and he shares his first hand opinions of him that are not flattering. He also provides other people’s opinions that agree with his. All is all, this is a delightful read, a good introduction to French history, but by no means an in depth look at any of the eras. For someone who a good knowledge of French History, there is probably nothing new. That said it is a good primer and a delightful, fun read. I would rate this a solid 4 stars and I will miss waiting for Mr. Norwich’s next project

  5. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    John Julius Norwich first visited France in 1936, when he was nearly seven. Ever since then he had a long association with the country and, indeed, this book reads much like a love letter to France. Sadly, John Julius Norwich died just a short time ago and he will be a great loss. I really enjoyed this warm and witty book, which takes the reader through the history of France, from the Roman invasion of Gaul to the end of the Second World War. Norwich was perfectly placed to write this book. His f John Julius Norwich first visited France in 1936, when he was nearly seven. Ever since then he had a long association with the country and, indeed, this book reads much like a love letter to France. Sadly, John Julius Norwich died just a short time ago and he will be a great loss. I really enjoyed this warm and witty book, which takes the reader through the history of France, from the Roman invasion of Gaul to the end of the Second World War. Norwich was perfectly placed to write this book. His father, Duff Cooper, was the ambassador to France during WWII. His mother, Lady Diana Manners, was a famous hostess. He met many of the famous, infamous, politically important and socially fashionable of the time. In a way, this book has much of the same, gossipy feel. It is very much of an overview of the country’s history and is not meant to appeal to those looking for deep, historical depth. However, this book will enthuse you about France, its people and its history. You can go back and read in greater detail about things which interest you, but this is a fun, enjoyable and great introduction to the history of this great nation and readers will miss the intimate writing style of Norwich, who was passionate in his writing and keen to share his enthusiasm with the reader.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    JJN's rich and creamy narrative history of France, not to be missed unless you're totally jaded on the topic. I love his style and recommend all of his books. And in the best tradition of Gibbon, he leaves in the naughty bits. JJN's rich and creamy narrative history of France, not to be missed unless you're totally jaded on the topic. I love his style and recommend all of his books. And in the best tradition of Gibbon, he leaves in the naughty bits.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Titus Hjelm

    Oh my… I really should have checked the author’s biography before buying this book. Even the title is misleading: It is not a history of France, but a history of French kings, emperors and presidents. Ironically, we learn extremely little about the _people_ who brought Europe democracy. It is a ‘great man’ history also literally: the only things we learn about French women is whether they were extraordinarily beautiful or extraordinarily fat (‘corpulent’). The author does not suppress his politi Oh my… I really should have checked the author’s biography before buying this book. Even the title is misleading: It is not a history of France, but a history of French kings, emperors and presidents. Ironically, we learn extremely little about the _people_ who brought Europe democracy. It is a ‘great man’ history also literally: the only things we learn about French women is whether they were extraordinarily beautiful or extraordinarily fat (‘corpulent’). The author does not suppress his politics, either: Like for any true monarchist since Burke, for him the revolution of 1789 is a ‘catastrophe’, not to speak of the revolutions of the 19th century. This 19th century attitude and perspective are explained by and, to a degree, can be excused because of the author’s age, of course. And there are some good, dry jokes—made better by the author’s dry style of reading the audiobook. But listening to this book makes one wonder what the image of history is like for people who only read popular histories, which are, almost without exception, massively conservative.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Melisende

    Norwich has an affinity with France stemming from early childhood, so no great surprise that this would be something he would eventual write about. And, by his own admission, this would be his last book (sadly his words were prophetic). Norwich's intended audience is not - as he writes - the academic or historian, but the lay reader - the general public. It is to be read as a general history (he does skip over great chunks with mere paragraphs) but that is his intent - to encapsulate this history Norwich has an affinity with France stemming from early childhood, so no great surprise that this would be something he would eventual write about. And, by his own admission, this would be his last book (sadly his words were prophetic). Norwich's intended audience is not - as he writes - the academic or historian, but the lay reader - the general public. It is to be read as a general history (he does skip over great chunks with mere paragraphs) but that is his intent - to encapsulate this history of France "from Gaul to de Gaulle" in a mere 400 pages. Norwich achieves what he sets out to do - give the reader a sense of the author's love for a country not of his own. This was a no-brainer for me - I love Norwich as an author and writer, and French history is something I have an interest in. Whilst for me, it was a quick an easy read, covering a lot of territory that I already knew, this is a teaser, a stepping stone for the reader to embark on their own journey through the annals of history. He will be sadly missed, by myself and many others. Enjoy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Reading Badger

    If you are an avid learner about the history of France, the book of John Julius Norwich is a great start. First of all, thank you NetGalley for giving us the chance to review this book. It represents the thorough work of a passionate author. 400 pages of the history of France, divided into 2 parts. Read the full review: https://readingbadger.club/2019/01/21... It’s easy to figure out that the author adores France. From the way, he speaks about the great Age of Charlemagne or the Carolingian kings, If you are an avid learner about the history of France, the book of John Julius Norwich is a great start. First of all, thank you NetGalley for giving us the chance to review this book. It represents the thorough work of a passionate author. 400 pages of the history of France, divided into 2 parts. Read the full review: https://readingbadger.club/2019/01/21... It’s easy to figure out that the author adores France. From the way, he speaks about the great Age of Charlemagne or the Carolingian kings, the Crusades, the court of Louis XIV, or the Revolution. Although you won’t find much about people’s history, as the author was mentioning, you will learn about the country’s growth and development.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cathal Kenneally

    Excellent A rollercoaster ride through nearly two thousand years of French history. It's a concise history, so if you want an , in depth history you'll have to look elsewhere. That's not to say anything wrong about this book. It's good enough to get you started Excellent A rollercoaster ride through nearly two thousand years of French history. It's a concise history, so if you want an , in depth history you'll have to look elsewhere. That's not to say anything wrong about this book. It's good enough to get you started

  11. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    Well written history of France, and the swan song of one of the most prolific popular historians. It is a little ironic that the first book of his that I read is the last that he wrote. The book opens with the author's memory of meeting de Gaulle and closes with his reflections on French culture. French history is so intertwined with that of Britain. However, the book does seem to be titled wrongly, saying it runs from Gaul to de Gaulle. The book's narrative ends abruptly in 1945. But de Gaulle Well written history of France, and the swan song of one of the most prolific popular historians. It is a little ironic that the first book of his that I read is the last that he wrote. The book opens with the author's memory of meeting de Gaulle and closes with his reflections on French culture. French history is so intertwined with that of Britain. However, the book does seem to be titled wrongly, saying it runs from Gaul to de Gaulle. The book's narrative ends abruptly in 1945. But de Gaulle had a very long career after that. All of his time as President of France is left out, including major events such as the Algerian War and of course, 1968.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    Not the first John Julius Norwich book to open with him saying it was probably his last – but alas, this time he was right. The publisher approved me for the Netgalley ARC on Friday, and on Saturday I saw the news of his departure (in the paper, like in olden times, because apart from me he's apparently not the sort to generate a torrent of Facebook obituary posts). Like everything else I've read by him, it's a masterclass in how to do narrative history well. It's learned, staggeringly so, while Not the first John Julius Norwich book to open with him saying it was probably his last – but alas, this time he was right. The publisher approved me for the Netgalley ARC on Friday, and on Saturday I saw the news of his departure (in the paper, like in olden times, because apart from me he's apparently not the sort to generate a torrent of Facebook obituary posts). Like everything else I've read by him, it's a masterclass in how to do narrative history well. It's learned, staggeringly so, while also being happy to acknowledge that it's skipping over minor Merovingians and Carolingians, or every back-and-forth of the Hundred Years War, and thank goodness for that (seriously, I did the later Carolingians at A Level and they're a right slog. Basically a random wheel of Charles/Otto/Lothar the Fat/Bald/Simple, at each other's throats for a century plus). Similarly, when he admits that keeping the Wars of Spanish and Austrian Succession distinct can be tricky even for the professional, I was so glad it wasn't just me. Conversely, he's not just playing the hits: yes, the Sun King, the Revolution, Napoleon and Dreyfus are all present and correct, but where it's necessary or illuminating the book is also happy to pay the requisite attention to the likes Louis XI, 'the Universal Spider', a fascinating figure of whom I was entirely unaware. Norwich also remains to the last a thoroughly genial and humane guide, but one not afraid to judge where judgements are deserved – and though one might not always agree with him, nor does he ever seem unfair or precipitous, or engaged in special pleading. Which you'd think might be a bare minimum for publication; alas, it sometimes seems as if it's instead a positive hindrance in an age where hot takes are as useful for selling a 'brainy book' [spit] as a clickbait short read. Norwich, though, never pretends to objectivity, never tries to use sleight of hand to get us going his way - he offers the facts, with commentary and conclusion. He has his favourites – among them the gallant - if dishonest, and somewhat prone to anti-Protestant pogroms - Francis I (one of the stars of Norwich's previous book, Four Princes), but he doesn't try to weasel out of their flaws; nor does he deny the virtues which are a necessary part of the monstrous Robespierre. On the other hand, when the story does run into a wholly wretched character – such as the clueless reactionary Charles X, at once tyrannical and inept - Norwich isn't afraid to administer the necessary verbal smackdown. And there's wit, of course, plenty of wit. Sometimes all it needs is a deadpan report of the facts, as with Henry VIII's sister Mary, her appetites at least the equal of her brother, pretty much shagging her husband Louis XII to death. Sometimes it's a telling phrase, as when the Capetians are credited with "transforming [France] from a Carolingian custard into a nation". Above all, though, he's a master of the dry but hysterically funny footnote: "Clement was in fact Leo’s second successor. In between came the mildly ridiculous Adrian VI, but he need not concern us here." Elsewhere a footnote will sometimes give a tantalising glimpse before snatching it away, as when Norwich suggests we Google Dr William Buckland, the pioneering palaeontologist who also ate the heart of the Sun King. Another details the prodigious number of byblows managed by Augustus the Strong – though I was surprised there wasn't room for one on the peculiar delusions of Marshal Blucher (which reminds me, how had I never registered the name of Napoleon's subordinate Marshal Grouchy before? Now there's a cartoon grump waiting to happen). Of course, once you get close to the present, there's also the perspective which comes with having grown up close to these events. Norwich recuses himself from addressing postwar France, and I can see his point because you have to end a history somewhere. But how often do you get to read an account of Charles de Gaulle by a man who once nicked his pudding, or of the scandalous Madame de Steinheil by someone who once bumped into her in Hove? I mean, such was the effect of immemorial wisdom that Norwich conveyed, part of you suspects that's only the beginning; I wouldn't be too surprised to learn Norwich was also vaguely acquainted with Vercingetorix (and I'm pretty sure I have him correctly separated out from Asterix et al, though if I'm honest I got through most of the first millennium while a bit drunk and waiting for an especially tardy night bus). Not that the general's pie earns him an easy ride; Norwich is still prepared to admit that, on a larger stage, "The folly and pettiness of de Gaulle pass belief". Granted, Duff Cooper, while undoubtedly a significant figure, tends not to rate quite so many mentions in histories not written by his son. But that sense of history being written by a wise and understanding coeval is rare, and rarer still without Norwich. Despite the final pages making an effort to sour my fondness for him by describing Ravel's Bolero as "dreadful", he will be missed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian Willis

    Fantastically entertaining read and the final book of Mr. Norwich. As he indicates, this is a popular, readable "short" narrative history of France, focusing on the monarchs and key figures. No long sections about the economy, and then when it is covered a few paragraphs about declining economics led to the French Revolution for instance. This is for those of us who only remember the Revolution, Napoleon, and WWI from World History, and want to know about monarchs, the major historical events wi Fantastically entertaining read and the final book of Mr. Norwich. As he indicates, this is a popular, readable "short" narrative history of France, focusing on the monarchs and key figures. No long sections about the economy, and then when it is covered a few paragraphs about declining economics led to the French Revolution for instance. This is for those of us who only remember the Revolution, Napoleon, and WWI from World History, and want to know about monarchs, the major historical events with a Franco-centric focus, and the fun, interesting, and bizarre stories that impact that history. For instance, France has had more regal assassinations than American Presidential assassinations. Just a bizarre stretch where people could just walk up and stab the king to death for whatever reason. Fascinating. Highly recommended if you want precisely this type of history, which ends with De Gaulle and the liberation of Paris. Perfect starting point as well for deeper dives elsewhere, just as he states was the point.

  14. 5 out of 5

    TBV

    Erudite and humorous, France: A History: from Gaul to de Gaulle by John Julius Norwich (15 September 1929 – 1 June 2018) is a delight. If you want an in-depth history this is not the book for you, as the history herein commences in 58 BC and finishes in 1945, all in under 400 pages. However, if you want an overview of the history of France, an introduction to that history, a recap of what you already know or simply a very entertaining read, this book is ideal. It is written in John Julius Norwic Erudite and humorous, France: A History: from Gaul to de Gaulle by John Julius Norwich (15 September 1929 – 1 June 2018) is a delight. If you want an in-depth history this is not the book for you, as the history herein commences in 58 BC and finishes in 1945, all in under 400 pages. However, if you want an overview of the history of France, an introduction to that history, a recap of what you already know or simply a very entertaining read, this book is ideal. It is written in John Julius Norwich’s inimitable chatty narrative style, and there is never a dull moment in the book. This book is well illustrated, and has maps, notes and Suggestions for Further Reading. John Julius Norwich, your books have given me much pleasure. I shall miss you.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Let me first emphasize how much I admire Norwich. He was a wonderful scholar. Although France was an enjoyable read, and I understand that the intended audience is non-academic, I was expecting a bit more in the way of content, as his "Short History of Byzantium" was far more comprehensive! Let me first emphasize how much I admire Norwich. He was a wonderful scholar. Although France was an enjoyable read, and I understand that the intended audience is non-academic, I was expecting a bit more in the way of content, as his "Short History of Byzantium" was far more comprehensive!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Supriyo Chaudhuri

    A beautifully written, kings and queens narrative of two thousand years of French history, which I much enjoyed. This book omits a lot - as one would expect in such a general book - but would be great read for anyone interested in France, if only for its numerous asides and notes laid out in almost Gibbonian style. There are lots of personages, lots of dates and lots of scandals, but it makes France understandable and mysterious, as any good history book should do.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Eskola

    So, first of all, this book is misattributed. There was no such person as “John Julius Norwich”; he was John Cooper. Norwich was his title; using it as a surname is aristocratic pretentiousness. I mention this not just to be difficult, but because knowing that he’s the Second Viscount Norwich helps to explain some of his perspective, particularly since 1789. (It's also relevant that his father was Duff Cooper, former cabinet minister and British Ambassador to France — but don't worry, he won't l So, first of all, this book is misattributed. There was no such person as “John Julius Norwich”; he was John Cooper. Norwich was his title; using it as a surname is aristocratic pretentiousness. I mention this not just to be difficult, but because knowing that he’s the Second Viscount Norwich helps to explain some of his perspective, particularly since 1789. (It's also relevant that his father was Duff Cooper, former cabinet minister and British Ambassador to France — but don't worry, he won't let you forget that.) In general, this is a relatively quick and high-level overview of French history — naturally, it’s difficult to get into much detail when covering 2000 years in 400 pages. And, as is common with history books that cover broad spans of time like this, the earlier centuries are covered much more briefly than later ones: though the book begins before the Roman invasion, 1453 (the end of the Hundred Years’ War) is only about a quarter of the way through; the Revolution of 1789 halfway through; and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 three-quarters. His focus is very much on what kings, aristocrats, and Popes did; on battles and on political intrigue. There’s almost nothing of everyday life; decades of historiographical development seems to have passed him by, and he’s teaching what I presume is basically the same sort of history he learned in the 1940s. (Ironic, because it was the French Annales school that was one of the first to emphasise social history rather than the Great-Man history that Cooper writes.) There are almost no women mentioned at all, at least not in their own right: only wives and mistresses, of whom we’re generally only told how attractive and/or nagging they were, and how many children they succeeded in producing for their husband. (Maria Theresa, wife of Louis XIV, is seemingly held to blame for her only son’s early death — at the age of 50.) I think the only woman mentioned for her own achievements might be Edith Piaf. His political bias is particularly clear in the chapters following the Revolution; he seems to admire Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III, and is particularly critical of the Third Republic. He seems disappointed by the failure to re-establish a monarchy; policies separating the Church and State are “persecution”; on the other hand, he’s thoroughly uncritical of the “spectacular” growth of the French Empire in Africa and South-East Asia, and its mission civilisatrice. The Paris Commune hardly gets mentioned; when it does, it's presented effectively as a military coup, and the civilian (and socialist) aspects are hardly mentioned at all. I’ve read worse, but it’s difficult to recommend this much.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    France – From Gaul to De Gaulle – A sort of love letter to France The second Viscount Norwich or the late John Julius Cooper if you prefer, wrote and finished his final book, not long before he died. This book is similar to an ode or a love letter to France, all but a short one. This book he states in his preface (yes, I do read them), states that this book is not aimed at the historians amongst us, but the general reader. As a historian, my attitude to France, nice country shame about the people, France – From Gaul to De Gaulle – A sort of love letter to France The second Viscount Norwich or the late John Julius Cooper if you prefer, wrote and finished his final book, not long before he died. This book is similar to an ode or a love letter to France, all but a short one. This book he states in his preface (yes, I do read them), states that this book is not aimed at the historians amongst us, but the general reader. As a historian, my attitude to France, nice country shame about the people, is not all together positive. While having a working knowledge of French history, it is not an area that I particularly find interesting. But that is me. So, I could come to this with a fresh pair of eyes and might learn something in the process. This is a lengthy tome at 400 pages but fortunately it is not as dry as dust, it is an interesting read. Cooper might not like this comparison if he were alive, but reading this book is like listening to your Grandfather take you by the hand as if telling you a story. There is something of the comfort blanket being wrapped around you, rather than a book that lectures you about the great and good in French history. We even learn that he first crossed the channel to France in 1936, and so began a love affair with a country other than his own. The tone is very much conversational, dotted with anecdotes, a device which most historians use to remember facts and details around an event. This is a well written and researched book that takes us gently through French history and makes it easy for those who are not historians to remember parts of French history hitherto had been unknown to them. This is an excellent way to teach the facts, especially if you are about to visit France for the first time, without being preached at. For a history book this is a fun and interesting read for any reader.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

    I listened to this as an audiobook over the last couple of weeks because I'm moving to France next month and desperately want to win the "most studious / over-eager immigrant" award. I'd never read anything by John Julius Norwich before but fell a little bit in love listening to him describe two millennia of French history with humor, compassion, and a delightful British accent. Now if only learning the French language were so easy... I listened to this as an audiobook over the last couple of weeks because I'm moving to France next month and desperately want to win the "most studious / over-eager immigrant" award. I'd never read anything by John Julius Norwich before but fell a little bit in love listening to him describe two millennia of French history with humor, compassion, and a delightful British accent. Now if only learning the French language were so easy...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    An engaging and highly readable exploration into the major political events in French history, broadly covering 2000 years, but most specifically between 800 and 1945. The author speaks of his personal experience in France and with the French; the author was of the old school, having been raised in the 1930s and 1940s and inculcated in the legacy of the "great men" school of history. Toward the end the author admits he would like to have spoken more about culture and daily life, but focused on wha An engaging and highly readable exploration into the major political events in French history, broadly covering 2000 years, but most specifically between 800 and 1945. The author speaks of his personal experience in France and with the French; the author was of the old school, having been raised in the 1930s and 1940s and inculcated in the legacy of the "great men" school of history. Toward the end the author admits he would like to have spoken more about culture and daily life, but focused on what he knew and what he had time to discuss. The work is very engaging as a piece regarding the history of the kings and rulers and major events of France and does well at maintaining a good focus on France and not going too far afield in tangents related to other countries. Toward WWII one gets a picture of de Gaulle and the circumstance in France which is highly informed by the author's personal experiences and those of his father, Duff Cooper, whose frequent appearance is notable. A strict historian might frown on such things, but the author throughout recognizes he is writing the history as he has understood it, and the work is all the better both for the personal judgments rendered within it and the chronicling of what the author is able to know because of his closer connection to the people involved in the narrative. The choice to end at 1945 is appreciated, not because the history of France since is less important, but because it is hard to adjudicate it until its long term effects become more evident. Also, the author is a British Francophile. His affection for France is evident, but it is also evident throughout that he is a bit of an outsider. It is highly unlikely a native French person would have written the history as he has done. So there's that. But, overall, a good introduction to French history. **--galley received as part of early review program

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Tyson

    What a great book! Norwich is such a good author. His is an old fashioned telling of the past, where individuals and events are explained in the context of their times with some humor thrown in. He has a gentle hand when it comes to judging the actions, people, and beliefs of former times. I like the personal bits he includes here and there. It's obvious he loves France. An example of his writing style: "Talleyrand suggested that Leopold should marry one of Louis-Philippe's three daughters. None What a great book! Norwich is such a good author. His is an old fashioned telling of the past, where individuals and events are explained in the context of their times with some humor thrown in. He has a gentle hand when it comes to judging the actions, people, and beliefs of former times. I like the personal bits he includes here and there. It's obvious he loves France. An example of his writing style: "Talleyrand suggested that Leopold should marry one of Louis-Philippe's three daughters. None of them was particularly keen, but the eldest, Louise, took the plunge and eventually presented her husband - who was twice her age - with two boys and a girl." My favorite person from the book may have been Louis-Philippe.

  22. 5 out of 5

    emschu

    This is a collection of the most irrelevant facts about France— how many people Charles de Gualle tried to bring to a particular lunch in England during the war, how beautiful (or not) a certain king's mistress was, and deep digressions into the nuances of royalist family trees with little discussion of who the people are, or what they did, aside from titles. There's literally no mention of the genocide in WWII and France's participation in sending Jews to Germany, just a discussion of petty pol This is a collection of the most irrelevant facts about France— how many people Charles de Gualle tried to bring to a particular lunch in England during the war, how beautiful (or not) a certain king's mistress was, and deep digressions into the nuances of royalist family trees with little discussion of who the people are, or what they did, aside from titles. There's literally no mention of the genocide in WWII and France's participation in sending Jews to Germany, just a discussion of petty politics between France and England; the antisemitism in the Dreyfus affair was glossed over; and the Joan of Arc section was legit 2 paragraphs. It's narrated in indirect, winding, convoluted sentences, which is rough when you're reading out loud. I guess I'm glad I have a brief knowledge of French history now, however, I'm not quite sure what I'm walking away with other than knowing how petty the author thought de Gualle was??

  23. 5 out of 5

    Appu

    "History of the world is but the biography of great men." I think it was Carlyle who said this. Julian Norwich seems to concur. His history of France is a parade of Kings, their mistresses and occasionally queens, cardinals, and generals. The Louises, Charleses and Henries of French history come so thick and fast that it is easy to lose track. Once we reach the French revolution, ordinary mortals show their face, and the narrative acquires some sort of sanity. Despite the overwhelming focus on p "History of the world is but the biography of great men." I think it was Carlyle who said this. Julian Norwich seems to concur. His history of France is a parade of Kings, their mistresses and occasionally queens, cardinals, and generals. The Louises, Charleses and Henries of French history come so thick and fast that it is easy to lose track. Once we reach the French revolution, ordinary mortals show their face, and the narrative acquires some sort of sanity. Despite the overwhelming focus on personalities, this book is very readable. Julian Norwich is a great raconteur and he never runs out of interesting stories. So, all said, this is an interesting book in an old-fashioned way.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sergio

    A very informative introduction to the History of France. It stops right after World War II, though, and although that would have obviously been beyond of the scope of this book, I would have personally welcomed a chapter on more recent events in the second half of the 20th century, since the author does a great job in going over facts and events during the period he set out to cover and I would have liked to read his take on what has happened after the war.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Howard

    This was a solidly good history, covering a vast swath of French history. I knew more about some epochs - Charlemagne, Louis XIV, but I was rustier on others - François 1, Louis Napoléon; so I really enjoyed it. The audio was read by Norwich himself just a few months before his death last year at age 89, so I also liked hearing it in his own words!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Zandra

    Aware of the deficiencies in my knowledge of French history, I wanted a readable romp through the centuries. This book was entertaining and I passed my time reading it happily enough. Yet I got the feeling the author didn't work very hard to produce it, focusing on stories that he already knew well and stringing them together to form his own idiosyncratic narrative, rather than trying to understand what was unique about the French. I'm left wanting more. Aware of the deficiencies in my knowledge of French history, I wanted a readable romp through the centuries. This book was entertaining and I passed my time reading it happily enough. Yet I got the feeling the author didn't work very hard to produce it, focusing on stories that he already knew well and stringing them together to form his own idiosyncratic narrative, rather than trying to understand what was unique about the French. I'm left wanting more.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Eleri

    Gave an excellent, concise overall picture of the history of France - good for a moron like me who knows nothing about history. Written with a light touch and dry wit that help you to persevere through all the ruddy Louis.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Grant

    It was a great overview, very quick but detailed. Now to Google this William Buckland fellow.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

    It requires a foolhardy self-confidence to condense 2000 years of history into a mere 400 pages; to do so with clarity, charm and a slightly salacious sense of humor borders on genius. Norwich's quip worthy “political history” is a mad dash through France’s Greatest Hits: Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Francis I, Henri IV and his one mass, a succession of Louis, The Revolution, Napoleon, Dreyfus, The Somme, Vichy, De Gaulle, and The Resistance. While he offers helpful guidance on the fractious politi It requires a foolhardy self-confidence to condense 2000 years of history into a mere 400 pages; to do so with clarity, charm and a slightly salacious sense of humor borders on genius. Norwich's quip worthy “political history” is a mad dash through France’s Greatest Hits: Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Francis I, Henri IV and his one mass, a succession of Louis, The Revolution, Napoleon, Dreyfus, The Somme, Vichy, De Gaulle, and The Resistance. While he offers helpful guidance on the fractious political squabbles among Valois and Bourbons, Jacobins and Royalists, and pro and anti Dreyfusards; he is far more interested in personalities than politics. Hence his focus on the two larger than life rulers who defined French cultural dominance: But civilization, must in the long run, be more important than economics...No civilization obviously can be ascribed to a single man or even to a single cause but the fact that France’s two highest points to date coincides with its two most dazzling rulers, Francis I and Louis XIV surely suggests that there may be some connection; that the effulgence of a great monarch may somehow fertilise and irradiate the genius of his subjects. (p. 174) Perhaps...although the epilogue’s racist lament for culturally improving colonialism gives one pause, as do the multitudinous and admiring asides about royal mistresses, making this the rare historical monograph with R rated footnotes. You will learn a lot from this book, but as with such Gallic delicacies as snails and raw oysters, it leaves one feeling a bit queasy. "I drove along the the West African coast from Abidjan to Lagos. Though Independence had come it was still very much the colonial world..The difference between Ghana and Nigeria (formerly British) and the others (formerly French) was astonishing. In Abidjan and Lome (Togo) I had delicious lunches of truite aux amandes the trout having been flown in from Marseilles the night before; there were delightful cafes populated largely by the French who had stayed on sipping Pernods and Camparis in their immaculately cut shirts and shorts. And how well I remember my spirits dipping as I approached the Nigerian frontier, staffed by an enormous Nigerian lady in bulging khaki uniform, sitting at a rickety wooden table ringed with circles left by brimming tankards--she was halfway through one herself-- and doing the football pools. Oh, dear, I thought , oh dear."

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jenni Wiltz

    3.5 stars I picked this up in eBook format after hearing Norwich on the BBC Extra podcast. He was so charming and so obviously loved France that I decided to read his book. Years ago, I’d read a similar book – Alistair Horne’s La Belle France, and loved it. Would I feel the same about this one? First things first – I don’t know what rock I’ve been living under, but I had no idea John Julius Norwich was Lady Diana Manners’s son. Lady Diana featured in The Secret Rooms, about a family mystery involv 3.5 stars I picked this up in eBook format after hearing Norwich on the BBC Extra podcast. He was so charming and so obviously loved France that I decided to read his book. Years ago, I’d read a similar book – Alistair Horne’s La Belle France, and loved it. Would I feel the same about this one? First things first – I don’t know what rock I’ve been living under, but I had no idea John Julius Norwich was Lady Diana Manners’s son. Lady Diana featured in The Secret Rooms, about a family mystery involving her father, grandmother, and missing sections of their archives. Later, Lady Diana married Duff Cooper, and lo and behold, in this book, Norwich talks briefly about his father in his role as ambassador to France. As such, there are a few insider tidbits when you get to the chapter on World War II. About the Book Think of this book as a college survey course. It gives you all the highlights of French history, but without much depth. That’s okay because depth isn’t the point here. As Norwich says in his introduction, “This book is not written for professional historians, who will find nothing in it that they do not know already” (Introduction). All he wants to do is fill in the blanks for people who know a bit about Joan of Arc and Napoleon, but not much else. In that, this book succeeds. For example, if you’re hazy on the details of the Hundred Years War, you’ll get a great summary here. If you’re not sure what the hell happened between Napoleon I and Napoleon III, you’ll find out how the Bourbons got restored (and dethroned) in between the Bonaparte rulers. He does tend to gloss over major events that have a ton of coverage elsewhere, like World War I and World War II. I’m okay with that, seeing as this book was never meant to be comprehensive. Norwich has an eye for character and detail, and will happily gloss over a major historical event if there are no amusing anecdotes or quotes to share. I think that’s acceptable for a book of this scope. If you’re keeping a timeline in your head, you’ll see 1,500 years fly by pretty quickly, from Julius Caesar to Francois I. The coverage slows down once you hit Louis XIV, and ends after World War II. Norwich’s writing style is breezy and entertaining, as are the footnotes, which are often there for more tidbits of information or a bon mot. What I Liked * Norwich injected his personality and opinion into the book. He’ll tell you who he thinks was a good king or a bad king, a good royal mistress or a terrible one. Philip the Fair? A dick (my words, not his). Madame de Pompadour? Sublime. Surprisingly, he describes Louis-Philippe as “almost forgotten today but probably the best king France ever had” (Introduction). It made the book a bit more interesting to get his take on famous figures in French history. You won't always agree with him, but it adds entertainment value. * He also includes some fascinating what-ifs. For example, returning to his favorite Bourbon king, Louis-Philippe, he describes how important his sister Adelaide was to him…and tells us she may be a much-overlooked power behind the throne. Adelaide died on the last day of 1847. Louis-Philippe lost his throne in 1848, but Norwich writes, “For eighteen years he had relied implicitly on her wisdom, her courage, her unfailing political instincts; now, just when he was to need them most, they were gone. He was still in shock when, just six weeks later, the storm broke” (Chapter 16). This would be a great area for further research. What I Didn’t Like One can’t complain about uneven coverage in a survey-style book like this. There were, however, a couple moments where I frowned while reading: * Occasionally, he’ll hint at an anecdote that sounds super interesting but stops short of telling us exactly what happened. For example, in chapter 3 (covering 1151-1223), he mentions Philip Augustus’s sister Agnes-Anna of Byzantium, “twice widowed in hideous circumstances before she was sixteen.” That’s it. That’s all we get. Enquiring minds want to know. It would have been nice if he’d included at least a sentence with a quick summary or a footnote in situations like this. * He has a tendency to refer to events and people as “mildly ridiculous”: Adrian VI, the Duchesse de Berry, Philippe Fabre, Plon-Plon (who, admittedly, is mildly ridiculous). Every writer has little phrases they become overly dependent on. It’s not a problem; it’s just something I noticed. * There’s next to no source attribution. I harp on this all the time. I’m always looking for good source documentation so I can retrace an author’s steps. This book doesn’t have a list of works cited, just a list for further reading. It doesn’t attribute quotes. Occasionally, he’ll credit books or authors for the material in a chapter, as he does with Christopher Hibbert in his chapter on the French Revolution. But for the most part, if you want to know where he got a quote or an anecdote, you’re out of luck. The good news? Because there’s no original research or archival sources, you’ll be able to find anything you want pretty easily with a quick Google search. And there is one large caveat that looms large: * If you’re looking for the kind of history book that ventures outside Paris, talks about the (gasp!) peasants, or covers societal and economic issues, this ain’t it. This is a mad dash through the headliners of history, with no coverage of art, culture, society, economics, or science. In this case, I think that’s okay. The book was never marketed as either academic or a social history, and Norwich makes no claims to any of these subjects. He’s very clear about what it is, and that’s exactly what he delivered. Still, if you’re expecting to hear about the development of Impressionism in the Belle Epoque chapter, for example, your hopes will be dashed. If you want to hear about the role of women in the Resistance, for example, your hopes will be dashed. But if that were the case, my guess is you’d be reading a different book, so no harm, no foul. Should You Read This Book? If you’re casually interested in French history (and not a master’s or PhD candidate), yes. It will pique your interest enough to delve deeper into the people and events that interest you. If I had to pick just one survey history to recommend, it would be Alistair Horne’s La Belle France. But I don’t have to pick just one, so read them both.

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