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The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography Paperback – October 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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
Top Customer Reviews
Graham Robb, an expert in French literature with biographies of Balzac and Hugo to his credit, has written an excellent history of France as seen from the provinces and from the seat of a bicycle. Let me explain. Robb peddled some 14,000 miles over a ten year period studying French rural culture. His original intention was to write a historical guidebook, but in the process of going off the beaten path he discovered the cultural and linguistic richness of the provinces.
France's centralizing process began before the Revolution with Louis XIV, who started to impose the cultural and linguistic norms of Paris and the Ile-de-France region on the rest of France. The Jacobins and Napoleon continued the process by extending Paris' administrative units throughout the country. Jargon-inclined literary critics have termed this gradual takeover as the colonization of the interior.
Robb learned from his travels that the centralization process was never as rapid or as complete as previously thought. In 1800, only 11% of the population spoke French (the official Parisian version) and a hundred years later only about 20% spoke it. Aside from separate languages such as Basque and Breton, there were 55 dialects and hundreds of sub-dialects. It was not until World War I - where this story ends - that it could be said that French, as we know it today, became the universal language within France itself.Read more ›
A great book, a great investigation.
Robb offers a wide and deep approach to the "discovery" of France. From the much-maligned cagots to the multi-cultural patois of the different villages and towns, the author points out that discrimination was the life-blood of tribal France. How the country became unified is the central core of the book and Robb investigates such things as how animals were viewed, why visitors (and later, "touristes") helped to baste the country together and even how the bicycle changed the course of modern France. It's quite an undertaking!
The highlight of "The Discovery of France", apart from the wonders that unfold, is the enjoyable narrative style with which Robb writes. While plunging into the depths of history over a wide range of topics, the author manages to keep the flow going nicely. This is not a quick read for a rainy day but one that takes necessary time to absorb what he transmits. The amount of information gleaned is remarkable...this is a man who knows France and is happy to compare notes. "The Discovery of France" is a thoughtful and extremely well-gathered book. I highly recommend it and congratulate Graham Robb for doing such an outstanding job in presenting it.
As such, the focus becomes mainly on the population of France before the 20th century, mainly, overwhelmingly rural. That means a story of a poor, illiterate, superstitious, and excuse for me saying this, hilarious population. One passage revealed to me the possible source of the 35-hour workweek. "Farm workers rarely worked more than two hundred days a year. Factory workers rarely worked more than two hundred and sixty days. (p. 101)" You can say that the French people are working harder today than ever before!
The pervasive influence of French rural life continue with the country today. Like the seasonal nature of French harvest. By the time winter rolls around, extreme boredom sets in (ennui). Robb makes the connection that under this circumstances, the craftsmanship we come to associate with the French arose, not only to bide the time, but also as an economic necessity.
France is a vast country, and Robb's France encompasses all regions from Brittany to Aquitane. The book to me is a window to these other places that very few works are written about in English.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Have to admit I have not finished the book. But it is intriguing. No idea if it's accurate, but I'm accepting it as such. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Janis Ann
I originally got this book because I recently learned that I have a whole line of ancestors that originally came from France and settled in small towns on the St Lawrence Seaway in... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Carolyn Dargevics
As noted by other reviewers, this book's main failing, and it is fatal, is that it lacks any semblance of a unifying theme. Read morePublished 7 months ago by this_4_now
if you have made plans to travel to France. The book presents an almost completely unflattering view of France and the French. Read morePublished 8 months ago by El Gringo
interesting info - after a while it seems to detailed for the casual readrPublished 9 months ago by Theo G. Loevenich
Who knew that France didn't really exist until the 1st world war? That there were 4 separate languages and 100s of dialects? Read morePublished 9 months ago by John