From Publishers Weekly
France is often regarded as the center of elegant civilization, so it's surprising to find that as late as 1890, most of the population was far from civilized—outside the confines of sophisticated Paris, as noted biographer Robb explains in his riveting exploration of France's historical geography, great swathes of countryside were terra incognita: dark places inhabited by illiterate tribes professing pre-Christian beliefs and lethally hostile to outsiders. They spoke not French but regional dialects; much of the country had not been accurately mapped; and many in the rural areas lacked surnames. The author himself embarked on a 14,000-mile bicycle tour of the France passed over in tourist guides. The result is a curious, engrossing mix of personal observation, scholarly diligence and historical narrative as Robb discusses the formation of both the French character and the French state. Robb's biographies of Victor Hugo, Rimbaud and Balzac were all selected by the New York Times
as among the best books of the year, an accolade that assures a select readership will be eager to pack his newest alongside their Michelin guides. 8 pages of b&w illus, maps. (Oct.)
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An astute sociological catalogue of France's changing idea of itself....will delight even the most indolent armchair traveler. -- France Telegraph
Scintillating and resourceful. -- John Leonard, Harper's
This is, above all, a careful and tolerant book: impossible to think of better qualities in a traveling companion. -- Ruth Scurr, The Nation
[Robb] penetrates so skillfully into the murky, often misunderstood history of [France]. -- Booklist