Friday, 22 April 2011

Book Review ~ "Histoire de la France" by Henri del Pup & Robert Pince

POSTED IN:  ~ PublicationsReviews ~ Books


Histoire de la France
by Henri del Pup & Robert Pince
Milan Jeunesse 2003
ISBN 9782745911414

Book Review
(Note: This book is in French)
It took me ages to read this, but that's more down to its rather large hardback format as I generally read on the train or in bed, and this isn't too convenient for either. But it's a great book, boy is it a great book!

I wasn't sure whether to talk about it here, because my policy (and USP) is to only review books which are resolutely Paris-themed, Paris-based, Paris-inspired or Paris obsessed. This is about France, and there are plenty of people out there reviewing any old book about this country so although I'm interested I tend to avoid them.

In this case though I thought it was justified. For a start, so much of the history of France revolves around Paris in one way or another. And then it was my first real delve into French history in any serious way, so I thought I'd share that with you too.


Histoire de la France is actually targeted at kids, but for me it was just perfect. Really, I far prefer a richly illustrated, thematic, one-topic-per-spread, lots of little coloured boxes all over the place volume like this than a heavy, boring text only tome.

There are nearly 300 pages of fascinating content presented in an extremely attractive way, taking us from hundreds of thousands of years ago when Homo erectus (which would make an excellent name for a club in the Marais, come to think of it) was just working out what fire was all about up to almost the present day. I say almost because President Sarkozy is missing from the end of my 2003 edition, but that's utterly irrelevant in fact.

The book is divided into twelve sections, and you can just about read the titles if you click on the picture on the left to blow it up.

I personally found the whole work riveting, as the style is crystal clear, the pages all divided up into managable paragraphs with headings and, unlike a lot of French and Parisian histories these days, you don't have to wade thigh-high through the author's personality to get to the actual facts, which in this case was exactly what I wanted.

The book is in French, as I indicated at the start of this review. As most of you will be anglophones, I'll say a bit about the level of the book. Despite it being targetted at a juvenile readership, I judge it to be far from simplistic. Clear it is, I would say, but the writing is both elegant and detailed, and it's probably not suitable for a complete beginner if you were thinking of using it as one of your first adventures into the language of Molière.

Having said that, for an intermediate level reader with a solid interest in the subject, I'd thoroughly recommend it as enabling you to chop two heads of with one guillotine, so to speak. You get the most accessible and engaging French history I've yet to see, in any language, along with a thorough immersion in well-written but straight forward French which will do wonders for your vocabulary as long as you have a good dictionary handy at all times!

My favourite chapters were probably those dealing with the various revolutions and empires and all the bloody events that surrounded them. The history of France is really bloody... bloody, you know!

I have terrible problems getting my head around the ins and outs of how all the various Louis and Napoleons and Communes and Sun Kings (thought it was a Beatles song..) and Terrors and Republics fit together, and this Histoire de la France went  a long way to helping me out of my own personal dark ages. A very useful geneology is included at the back, which I found myself referring to regularly, so thanks for that too, Messieurs Pince & del Pup.

I mentioned the goriness of much of French history, and this isn't hidden in the book. Chapters are devoted to the Nazi occupation of Paris, the concentration camp horrors, various religious massacres (a recurring theme), the slave trade and the war of the trenches, to name but a few.

It's not all horrors though, and there are plenty of double page spreads on more optimistic matters. The art and craft of Cro-Magnon man is revelatory as Homo sapiens came on the scene (not such a cool name for a Marais club). We learn of cathedral building techniques and the daily lives of students in the middle ages. We see how the countryside is exploited differently over the centuries. We are told about the Italian and French renaissance periods and the enlightenment times, which unfortunately didn't last too long before obscurantism took over again. It's all engrossing stuff in any case.

The modern era isn't ignored, and I was able, for once and for all, able to both situate and distinguish between 'la Belle Epoque' and 'les Années Folles', although don't ask me for the details if you don't mind.

The wars are covered sensitively and intelligently, while later times such as the notorious May '68 student protests are elucidated for those of us for whom it was all a bit of a mystery. The whole De Gaulle phenomenon is much clearer to me now, thank you.

After a bit about the recent French presidents and the 70s oil crisis the book finishes with France winning the football world cup (oh, I remember it well, old grannies dancing in the street... well, almost) and the introduction of the euro.

A youthful approach may be taken by Histoire de la France, but puerile it certainly isn't, and I can't think of a better introduction to the basics of what has gone to make France and its people the nation it is today. A slight disclaimer would be that I haven't exactly read many, so hopefully there are a few other great ones out there which I'll be bringing to your attention in due course. An English version would be nice.

I'll sum up with the back cover blurb in French, in case you wanted to see how much you understand:

"S'intéresser à l'histoire de la France, c'est suivre le fil des événements qui ont marqué la vie de notre pays : depuis la conquête du feu, ses habitants successifs ont notamment vécu l'arrivée de l'agriculture, l'apparition de la métallurgie, la guerre des Gaules, les grandes migrations, l'euphorie du XIe au XIIIe siècle, la guerre de Cent Ans, les guerres de Religion, la Révolution et deux guerres mondiales. C'est un véritable roman, avec ses batailles et ses intrigues, ses personnages d'exception et ses traîtres. Mais l'ouvrage raconte aussi la vie de tous les jours, ses lentes transformations et les grands mouvements de pensée qui font évoluer la société française et la conduisent à ce qu'elle est devenue aujourd'hui. Une plongée dans le passé qui permet au lecteur d'éclairer le présent et de mieux baliser l'avenir."
Bravo, I couldn´t have said it better myself. Translations on a postcard (or in the comments section if you prefer). There will be a test on Monday morning, don't be late.

  


                       
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© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly with suggestions, questions and requests.

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