Monday, July 11, 2016

A Perfunctory History of France

A Brief History of FranceA Brief History of France by Cecil Jenkins
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm too damn familiar with British history, I told myself recently. Time to branch out!...My branch didn't stretch too far.

The histories of France and England are deeply entwined (which always seemed odd to me considering how very different are their people, language, food, etc), so reading about France's history wasn't exactly like taking a trip to another galaxy. Since declaring nationhood, their almost constant warring would always insure some old familiar atrocity to ground my sense of time and place.

With that kind of background knowledge in place, I wasn't looking for any especially thorough or comprehensive history on France and that's just what I got in A Brief History of France. Very brief. Not particularly thorough. That's all right! There's a place, time and person for this kind of history-quickie and I'm it!

The real problem with this book revealed itself fairly early. It's uneven. In chapter one, within a few slim pages, we get the entirety of human civilization in the French region summed up in the quick mention of some cave paintings recently discovered. There ya go, a nice tidy summation of a couple million years. Then it jumps directly into Roman Gaul with a page or so on Julius Caesar and Vercingetorix. With the whole Roman Empire and its rule over Gaul taken care of, we now move into Medieval France, where Charlemagne and the early chivalric knights roamed. And all those hundreds and thousands of years are, not only lumped in with all of prehistory, but it's all jammed together in one twenty page chapter. I was a little miffed, so I flipped ahead and discovered that the period after the second world war up to the present, approximately 70 years worth, takes up 100 pages and an entire third of the whole book! So yeah, as I said, this is uneven.

Another issue, and it's minor, is the casual tone. I don't think I've ever read a history text before that referred to a historical figure in terms of their "bitchiness".

War, huh yeah, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, you say Edwin Starr? Wrong! War is good for history books. That shit really fills the pages! It's all over this mother. I suppose that's not Cecil Jenkins' fault. I blame the French.

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