In This Review

At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion
At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion
By Jean-­Vincent Blanchard
Bloomsbury, 2017, 272 pp.

The French Foreign Legion was established in 1831 at a time of disorder in France. At first it was composed of only foreigners (French citizens were able to join after 1881), and a recruit had to offer only a name and a healthy body to join. The legionnaires’ loyalty was largely to one another, but France fashioned the recruits into an effective force available for tough situations, especially in the French colonies. A mythology developed around the legion, promoted in books and movies in which the legionnaire appeared as a brooding but brave outcast, wearing a trademark kepi and accepting the hazards of war to escape a murky past. Blanchard’s scholarly but entertaining book shows that the mystery and romance associated with the legion had some basis in reality. Blanchard uses the career of Marshal Louis-Hubert Lyautey, who was involved in campaigns with the legion from Algeria to Indochina to Madagascar, to explore the legion’s character, role, and fights.