Starred Review. 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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
This book combines the authors obvious passion for both geography and history. I read it almost non stop - now I only want to go to France and spend a few months or so walking... Read morePublished 23 days ago by John Shown
This is an enjoyable book, absorbing writing style, interesting words, also humorous.Published 1 month ago by martha hook
I have read this book three times, and each time I read it, I learn something new. France is such a fascinating enigma. So rich, but so poverty stricken. Why? Read morePublished 1 month ago by Marcy Casterline O'Rourke
This marvelous book completely changed any previous thoughts I might have had about French history and gas made me wonder about the rest if the developed world.Published 2 months ago by Mimi
Gives brand-new insights into the development of what is now the modern nation of France. I had no idea!Published 2 months ago by W. Stringer
This book will introduce you to France in a whole new way. After reading this book I can better understand from where the french get their decidedly different approach to... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Alma Jeanne Carman
This is a well researched picture of France viewed over the centuries. Very detailed, almost too detailed, descriptions of ancient tribes, languages, maps and the people of France. Read morePublished 4 months ago by wineprof