The discovery of France

Having finally finished reading Graham Robb’s hefty tome on French domestic history (it was my on-the-loo read for about two months) I thought I should write a few words…

First of all if all you’ve ever read is anecdotal and summary histories of France, this is a good step towards the real thing, without getting too embroiled in dates, names, places and politics.

Robb delves into the everyday real history of France from the sixteenth century onwards, highlighting the key changes and discoveries that have gone to lay the foundations of present day French culture, and more often than not, it makes fascinating reading.

I was amazed to learn:

  • Roman roads provided the best transport links around the country right until the arrival of the railways
  • it took over a hundred years for the metric system to replace all previous systems (take note Britain)
  • the majority of French people didn’t actually speak French until long after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo (they were speaking Alsatian, Breton, Occitan …)
  • Strasbourg Cathedral narrowly escaped demolition after the secularisation of France
  • the origins of the ‘Tour de France’

Having read this book I feel less like an ignorant foreigner now. Although I am still ignorant, and still a foreigner.

Next book on the list is “Testimony” by Nicolas Sarkozy, which I don’t doubt will be a good book to have in the loo too.

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