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The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force Paperback – November 1, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In spite of its high desertion rate, its fatal preference for frontal assault and resistance to modernization, the polyglot, multinational force known as the French Foreign Legion has maintained a reputation for do-or-die combat ferocity since its founding a century and a half ago. Porch ( The Conquest of the Sahara ) describes the Legion's unique recruitment practices, merciless training methods and traditions from which it derives its special character, and also relates how it carved its colorful history in the sands of the Sahara and the jungles of Africa and Indochina. The study includes vivid descriptions of such classic legionnaire battles as the 1848 seige at Zaatcha in Morocco and the valiant last stand at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. This entertaining history captures the romance, mystery and drama of the Legion as well as the iron at its core. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Porch, a distinguished scholar of France's military experience, has integrated exhaustive archival research with comprehensive, critical use of an extensive memoir literature to produce the definitive history of this unique military formation. Porch analyzes the relationship of the Foreign Legion to the French army and French society. He discusses the legion's role as an instrument of redemption, and its status as an elite fighting force. He evaluates the legion's internal dynamics, throwing new light on such cliche-encrusted issues as the role of desertion in the legion's subculture and the nature of legion discipline. The book also serves as an excellent history of France's colonial wars, with the legion at center stage. Porch's accounts of the conquest of Algeria, the Dahomey and Madagascar campaigns, and the French occupation of Tonkin in the 1880s surpass anything in English. His analysis of the French defeat in Indochina is a model of its kind. Porch's sense of the mot juste and the telling phrase make this book a pleasure to read, as well as an exercise in sound history. Recommended for most collections.
- D.E. Showalter, Colorado Coll., Colorado Springs
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing; First Edition edition (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161608068X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616080686
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 5.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #525,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William J. Shepherd on October 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
Douglas Porch is perhaps one of the most widely acknowledged experts on the history of the French army. THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION: A COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE LEGENDARY FIGHTING FORCE is but one of his many thoroughly reseached and well-argued historical studies. The subtitle is incorrect though as there is no such thing as a 'complete' history. For one thing, Porch ignores the post 1962 Legion and its numerous excursions in such exotic locales as Chad, the former Zaire, Djibouti, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf. Beyond this questionable title selection and the aformentioned omissions, there is little cause for complaint as this book is probably the most balanced and comprehensive study of the Foreign Legion yet undertaken. There have been many personal memoirs and battle histories published but this is the first significant attempt at an institutional history. Porch is less concerned with battles (though they are an integral factor) than he is with the Legion's function as a social institution. He focuses on such elements as organization, recruitment, desertion, discipline, morale, alcohol consumption, and combat performance. The Legion was initiated in 1830 to rid France of unwanted foreign emigres and to provide forces for unpopular service in the colonial empire, primarily Algeria. The Legion also provided an outlet for some of the dregs of both French society and the army. The nature and origins of recruits changed over time and reflected the outcome of varous European conflicts in that members of the losing side, be it Spanish republicans in the 1930s or German Nazis in the 1940s, for example, invariably swelled the Legion's rolls. Desertion was an endemic problem but was generally viewed as removing malcontents and improving the overall quality of a unit.Read more ›
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This book contains a lot of impressive research on the history and combat performance of the Legion. Unlike other books on this subject Mr. Porch has decided to take an objective, analylitical approach toward his study of the Legion. This may put off some readers because Porch's work is long, and does not contain a lot of exciting passages. This is a serious study of the Legion's origins, history, and combat performance. Those who stick with this long read will find it rewarding, but also time consuming!
There is lots of fascinating information here buried between the sometimes excessive analysis. A lot of focus is placed on Legion morale, combat effectiveness, and desertion. Porch spends large portions of time disecting these topics at length throughout the book to try to determine the real efficiency of the Legion and to seperate the myth from the reality. His conclusions are that the Legion performed best when used in colonial operations. It was not suited for European conflicts and World Wars, even though it did perform well in them. The often delicate pyschological make-up of the average Legionaire meant that he was not suited to perform certain tasks. The Legion prides itself on being a corps d'elite of the French army, even though the Legion itself often disdains that asscoiation. The love-hate relationship between France and her Legion is well illustrated in this book. Indeed, this was the very reason why it was formed in 1831 to safely deposit troublesom foreign elements of society. The Legion seeing this, has responded by imposing an insular discipline over the years which either consumes the recruit, or destroys him in the process!
For the length of this book, Porch could spend somewhat more time describing the Legion's battles and campaigns.
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Format: Paperback
At 634 pages plus references, this book is a lot of "Legion", and the reader will not be able to finish it on the plane. Professor Porch is to be commended on the thoroughness with which he treats his subject, but the lay reader may find some of the development excessively long, perhaps to the point of preventing a clear understanding of the main subject. For this hypothetical reader, the tale could have had twice the impact with half the words. An additional flaw is that, rather surprisingly after all the detail on historical matters, the treatment of the Legion in modern times is skimpy, and the book would have benefitted from a really strong closing chapter on the Legion today.
But precisely because it is highly detailed, the book can be mined for fascinating insights. The reader can learn about Cole Porter's Legion career and what Legionnaires really think of Beau Geste soldiers. Does the Legion really fight to the last man? Find out about mercenaries, idealism, cruelty, boozing, fighting in the ranks, mutinies, and many other aspects of Legion life. The book will almost surely be an eye-opener for some with preconceived notions (and we all have them where the Legion is concerned), but the author always gives documentation for his claims.
This is a useful reference on the French Foreign Legion and a rewarding read for anyone interested in the subject.
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I have had a long interest in the history of the legion and have read several other books on the subject. This book is without doubt the most detailed and complete history of the legion that i've read. It gives the complete story of the legion from it's inception in the 1830's until it left Algeria in 1962 but it's more than just a reciting of battles and events as the author goes deep to explain what life in the legion was like both in Algerian garrisons and on campaign around the world. In particular the author examines the legion legends about being a haven for criminals and the disgraced men of Europe and finds that the truth is a little bit different from the legend. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the legion and it's history.
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