The French Century: An Illustrated History of Modern France

Brian Moynahan, Author . Flammarion $39.95 (479p) ISBN 978-2-0803-0015-7

Though Moynahan (The British Century ) covers only the last century, he persuasively argues that, for the French, history never dies. Left and Right still continue, for instance, to hurl accusations at each other over the late–19th-century Dreyfus affair. Moynahan traces this sense of radicalism and reactionism to the undying influence of the Revolution: “Nothing... has weaned the French from” it. Unfortunately, for all the talk of liberty, equality, fraternity, as Moynahan points out, there is no mention of justice and legality. Hence France's reliance on extraparliamentary and extrajudicial protest to decide policy. Still, he says, the once-infectious brilliance of Gallic style and culture more than compensated for the occasional riot. Today, mourns Moynahan, a former foreign correspondent for the London Sunday Times , the once passionate French “are tending to the sclerotic, hidebound, dull”—a result of their country trying to fit in with the rest of Europe. It's uncommon to see an author encouraging the French to stand out more, rather than less. This volume, with its well-chosen and rarely seen photographs, and its brisk, efficient historical narrative covering the country's social, political, intellectual and economic life, serves admirably as a primer for tourists, students and those seeking to understand France and the French. 200 b&w illus. (Oct. 16)

Reviewed on: 09/17/2007
Release date: 10/01/2007
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