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France: An Adventure History
By Graham Robb
Norton, 2022, 544 pp.
This book belongs to a contemporary genre—Robb calls it “slow history”— in which authors travel around on foot or by old-fashioned conveyance and recount tales about the history of the spots they visit. Robb, a British popular historian, delves into the past and present of France from the seat of his bicycle, on which he has logged over 14,000 miles crisscrossing the country. He also boasts of spending four years doing extensive library research. Accordingly, he meanders quite a bit while visiting France, detouring unexpectedly to dawdle over details. Some topics he discusses are well known, such as the origins and rituals of the Tour de France, the turn-of-the-twentieth-century political scandal known as the Dreyfus Affair, and current French President Emmanuel Macron’s inability to inspire public affection. Others are obscure, such as tales of ancient Goth chieftains, quirky medieval craftsmen, and old stores. Yet the improbable result is an exceptionally entertaining book. Even the timid reader will find passages of engaging and often witty storytelling, while adventurous ones may chart an itinerary for an upcoming trip.
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