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The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography Paperback – October 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Brilliant. Robb, who writes beautifully…has accomplished quite a feat. He has reintroduced France to itself.”
- William Grimes, New York Times
“Scintillating and resourceful.”
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Top customer reviews
The book is beautifully written, instantly grabbing, and most of the time a real page-turner. It does a brilliant job of identifying the demarcation lines between ancient cultures, subcultures, and sub-subcultures through the fissures of French geography. And it makes one think about one's own cultural history, and the impact of roads and communications in unifying a nation into a single culture, as well as what gets lost along the way in that ruthless homogenization.
I can't wait to take this book with me back to the southern parts of France and re-reading it in context. It's just that good.
I have just bought a copy on Amazon, because I want to be able to write in my personal copy.
A question I held for so long about how humans in America could do what they did to so called human African Slaves.? This is not new history. "You have to be carefully taught".
Why are the Parisians today so afraid of communities? depends on what it took to unite all the tribes to form FRANCE.
So,thanks to Rick Steves and Graham Robb and Amazon....
You have all been a blessing to me this week,
Merci, Jacquelyn Goudeau
Much of France's mystique is based on the rich and iconographic legends surrounding the country's rise and development. It's perhaps easy to think that, once we have learned the main themes, we have "learned" the country. These main themes are indeed incredibly interesting in their own right: the rise of Charlemagne and the establishment of the Carolingian Empire, the development of educational institutions such as the cathedral schools and the university, the creation of premier architectural forms such as Early, High, Rayonnant, and Flamboyant Gothic styles, the rise of the Napoleonic Empire, the many artistic contributions of persons from all parts of the country, and the undeniable scientific advances made by the French in last three centuries. And yet, we find upon reading Robb's book that it is possible to know a little about all these things and perhaps not still have an understanding of how the France that we know today really came to be. It's a story interesting, surprising, and unusual, but it's a story worth telling, and it helps make all the rest of the story make even more sense.
Robb's text deals with the period between the French Revolution and the emergence of the 20th century. As such, the author particularly focuses on how the governmental programs initiated immediately after the Revolution impacted the lives of virtually every person in the country. Indeed, much of Robb's book argues that, prior to these events, France existed in a set of disparate and non-standardized "pays," with even such basics as language and weights and measures existing in unique forms in virtually every region. The text helps us hypothesize why the French people feel the way they do about their language, their way of life, and even their political and educational institutions.
The entire book is consistently fascinating, but those who have travelled to France over the years should find the later part of the book of special and curious interest, for it is here that Robb describes the rise of tourism in France, and the effect that these new creatures called "tourists" had on the country. It's a cart-before-the-horse story, where we see the country adapting to tourism, rather than tourists adapting to the county. In a way, we can see that the tourist played his own special role in the preservation of France's historical and cultural sites, and it is simply engrossing to read the symbiotic relationship France and its tourists had, and still have today.
If you speak French, or if you're just an armchair admirer of the French language, reading Robb's description of how the French language came to be the established standard tongue all over the country is surely one of the greatest highlights of this book. For the historian, this story is one that is rarely told, and holds a set of people, places, and governmental programs not normally considered in more traditional French history books. For the educator, the ability to follow the story of how the government worked in concert with local educational centers to advance and stabilize all regions in France into French speaking domains must surely rank as one of the premier examples of the power of educational programs. Don't miss it.
Every Francophile will wish to consider this new entry into the historical collection of French history books. Don't be surprised if you end up with a renewed interest in what is already a fascinating history. Highly recommended.