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A History of France

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  822 ratings  ·  118 reviews
John Julius Norwich--called a "true master of narrative history" by Simon Sebag Montefiore--returns with the book he has spent his distinguished career wanting to write, A History of France a portrait of the past two centuries of the country he loves best.

Beginning with Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul in the first century BC, this study of French history comprises a cast
ebook, 400 pages
Published October 2nd 2018 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published 2018)
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Sumit RK
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur
France cannot be France without greatness.

~ Charles de Gaulle

A History of France is a concise, fast-paced yet insightful overview of the history of France by John Julius Norwich. Described as a true master of narrative history, Norwich proves once again why he truly deserves the title. A History of France is sadly his last work: Lord Norwich died in June at the age of 88.

From Julius Caesar in Gaul to De Gaulle, The book covers nearly 2000 years
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: european-history
John Julius Norwich was a prolific author whose first book was published in 1966. This, his last, was published shortly after his death at 88 in 2018. His father, Duff Cooper, became the British ambassador to France when the Germans were driven out of Paris in 1944. Norwich went with him there as a teenager. Norwich was taught French beginning at five years old and clearly has great affection for France. In the preface he notes that this would be the last book he wrote and the one he had always ...more
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful, accessible one-volume history of France for busy people. John Norwich had a unique perspective on France as the son of the WW2 British Ambassador to France, Duff Cooper; his early immersion in the affairs and language of France informs his understanding and gives life to his narration of history. Honestly, the Medieval history is full of dull, sad stories (as was the entire epoch) with a few exceptions, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, but Norwich shines in his recitation of the ...more
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-general
With his final book, John Norwich; who passed away just about the time this was published, once again delivers a very readable and entertaining look at history. This narrative looks at the history of France from the time of Julius Caesars conquest of Gaul to the end of World War II and the rise of Charles DeGualle, appox 2000 yrs. Coming in at just under 400 pages of text in the edition that I read, this history is by no means comprehensive. In fact, he covers the time from Caesar to Charlemagne ...more
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Julius Norwich first visited France in 1936, when he was nearly seven. Ever since then he had a long association with the country and, indeed, this book reads much like a love letter to France. Sadly, John Julius Norwich died just a short time ago and he will be a great loss. I really enjoyed this warm and witty book, which takes the reader through the history of France, from the Roman invasion of Gaul to the end of the Second World War.

Norwich was perfectly placed to write this book. His
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french-history
JJN's rich and creamy narrative history of France, not to be missed unless you're totally jaded on the topic. I love his style and recommend all of his books. And in the best tradition of Gibbon, he leaves in the naughty bits.
Norwich has an affinity with France stemming from early childhood, so no great surprise that this would be something he would eventual write about. And, by his own admission, this would be his last book (sadly his words were prophetic).

Norwich's intended audience is not - as he writes - the academic or historian, but the lay reader - the general public. It is to be read as a general history (he does skip over great chunks with mere paragraphs) but that is his intent - to encapsulate this history
Titus Hjelm
Sep 12, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh my I really should have checked the authors biography before buying this book. Even the title is misleading: It is not a history of France, but a history of French kings, emperors and presidents. Ironically, we learn extremely little about the _people_ who brought Europe democracy. It is a great man history also literally: the only things we learn about French women is whether they were extraordinarily beautiful or extraordinarily fat (corpulent). The author does not suppress his politics, ...more
Reading Badger
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are an avid learner about the history of France, the book of John Julius Norwich is a great start.
First of all, thank you NetGalley for giving us the chance to review this book. It represents the thorough work of a passionate author. 400 pages of the history of France, divided into 2 parts.

Read the full review:

Its easy to figure out that the author adores France. From the way, he speaks about the great Age of Charlemagne or the Carolingian kings,
Cathal Kenneally
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A rollercoaster ride through nearly two thousand years of French history. It's a concise history, so if you want an , in depth history you'll have to look elsewhere. That's not to say anything wrong about this book. It's good enough to get you started
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written history of France, and the swan song of one of the most prolific popular historians. It is a little ironic that the first book of his that I read is the last that he wrote. The book opens with the author's memory of meeting de Gaulle and closes with his reflections on French culture. French history is so intertwined with that of Britain. However, the book does seem to be titled wrongly, saying it runs from Gaul to de Gaulle. The book's narrative ends abruptly in 1945. But de Gaulle ...more
Alex Sarll
Not the first John Julius Norwich book to open with him saying it was probably his last but alas, this time he was right. The publisher approved me for the Netgalley ARC on Friday, and on Saturday I saw the news of his departure (in the paper, like in olden times, because apart from me he's apparently not the sort to generate a torrent of Facebook obituary posts). Like everything else I've read by him, it's a masterclass in how to do narrative history well. It's learned, staggeringly so, while ...more
Brian Willis
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastically entertaining read and the final book of Mr. Norwich. As he indicates, this is a popular, readable "short" narrative history of France, focusing on the monarchs and key figures. No long sections about the economy, and then when it is covered a few paragraphs about declining economics led to the French Revolution for instance. This is for those of us who only remember the Revolution, Napoleon, and WWI from World History, and want to know about monarchs, the major historical events ...more
Erudite and humorous, France: A History: from Gaul to de Gaulle by John Julius Norwich (15 September 1929 1 June 2018) is a delight. If you want an in-depth history this is not the book for you, as the history herein commences in 58 BC and finishes in 1945, all in under 400 pages. However, if you want an overview of the history of France, an introduction to that history, a recap of what you already know or simply a very entertaining read, this book is ideal. It is written in John Julius Norwich ...more
Let me first emphasize how much I admire Norwich. He was a wonderful scholar. Although France was an enjoyable read, and I understand that the intended audience is non-academic, I was expecting a bit more in the way of content, as his "Short History of Byzantium" was far more comprehensive!
Supriyo Chaudhuri
A beautifully written, kings and queens narrative of two thousand years of French history, which I much enjoyed. This book omits a lot - as one would expect in such a general book - but would be great read for anyone interested in France, if only for its numerous asides and notes laid out in almost Gibbonian style. There are lots of personages, lots of dates and lots of scandals, but it makes France understandable and mysterious, as any good history book should do.
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
France From Gaul to De Gaulle A sort of love letter to France

The second Viscount Norwich or the late John Julius Cooper if you prefer, wrote and finished his final book, not long before he died. This book is similar to an ode or a love letter to France, all but a short one. This book he states in his preface (yes, I do read them), states that this book is not aimed at the historians amongst us, but the general reader.

As a historian, my attitude to France, nice country shame about the people,
Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I listened to this as an audiobook over the last couple of weeks because I'm moving to France next month and desperately want to win the "most studious / over-eager immigrant" award. I'd never read anything by John Julius Norwich before but fell a little bit in love listening to him describe two millennia of French history with humor, compassion, and a delightful British accent. Now if only learning the French language were so easy...
Benjamin Eskola
So, first of all, this book is misattributed. There was no such person as John Julius Norwich; he was John Cooper. Norwich was his title; using it as a surname is aristocratic pretentiousness. I mention this not just to be difficult, but because knowing that hes the Second Viscount Norwich helps to explain some of his perspective, particularly since 1789. (It's also relevant that his father was Duff Cooper, former cabinet minister and British Ambassador to France but don't worry, he won't let ...more
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An engaging and highly readable exploration into the major political events in French history, broadly covering 2000 years, but most specifically between 800 and 1945.

The author speaks of his personal experience in France and with the French; the author was of the old school, having been raised in the 1930s and 1940s and inculcated in the legacy of the "great men" school of history.

Toward the end the author admits he would like to have spoken more about culture and daily life, but focused on
Sonja Tyson
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
What a great book! Norwich is such a good author. His is an old fashioned telling of the past, where individuals and events are explained in the context of their times with some humor thrown in. He has a gentle hand when it comes to judging the actions, people, and beliefs of former times. I like the personal bits he includes here and there. It's obvious he loves France. An example of his writing style: "Talleyrand suggested that Leopold should marry one of Louis-Philippe's three daughters. None ...more
Jul 14, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of the most irrelevant facts about France how many people Charles de Gualle tried to bring to a particular lunch in England during the war, how beautiful (or not) a certain king's mistress was, and deep digressions into the nuances of royalist family trees with little discussion of who the people are, or what they did, aside from titles. There's literally no mention of the genocide in WWII and France's participation in sending Jews to Germany, just a discussion of petty ...more
Nov 11, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"History of the world is but the biography of great men." I think it was Carlyle who said this. Julian Norwich seems to concur. His history of France is a parade of Kings, their mistresses and occasionally queens, cardinals, and generals. The Louises, Charleses and Henries of French history come so thick and fast that it is easy to lose track. Once we reach the French revolution, ordinary mortals show their face, and the narrative acquires some sort of sanity. Despite the overwhelming focus on ...more
Jessica Howard
This was a solidly good history, covering a vast swath of French history. I knew more about some epochs - Charlemagne, Louis XIV, but I was rustier on others - François 1, Louis Napoléon; so I really enjoyed it. The audio was read by Norwich himself just a few months before his death last year at age 89, so I also liked hearing it in his own words!
Jun 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aware of the deficiencies in my knowledge of French history, I wanted a readable romp through the centuries. This book was entertaining and I passed my time reading it happily enough. Yet I got the feeling the author didn't work very hard to produce it, focusing on stories that he already knew well and stringing them together to form his own idiosyncratic narrative, rather than trying to understand what was unique about the French. I'm left wanting more.
Jul 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gave an excellent, concise overall picture of the history of France - good for a moron like me who knows nothing about history. Written with a light touch and dry wit that help you to persevere through all the ruddy Louis.
Jonathan Grant
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was a great overview, very quick but detailed.
Now to Google this William Buckland fellow.
Aug 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It requires a foolhardy self-confidence to condense 2000 years of history into a mere 400 pages; to do so with clarity, charm and a slightly salacious sense of humor borders on genius. Norwich's quip worthy political history is a mad dash through Frances Greatest Hits: Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Francis I, Henri IV and his one mass, a succession of Louis, The Revolution, Napoleon, Dreyfus, The Somme, Vichy, De Gaulle, and The Resistance. While he offers helpful guidance on the fractious political ...more
Jenni Wiltz
3.5 stars

I picked this up in eBook format after hearing Norwich on the BBC Extra podcast. He was so charming and so obviously loved France that I decided to read his book. Years ago, Id read a similar book Alistair Hornes La Belle France, and loved it. Would I feel the same about this one?

First things first I dont know what rock Ive been living under, but I had no idea John Julius Norwich was Lady Diana Mannerss son. Lady Diana featured in The Secret Rooms, about a family mystery involving her
Sep 04, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Informative and very traditional. It struck me that the only woman he found worth mentioning was Jeanne d'Arc. Not without reason of course, but this type of historical writing has had its day.
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John Julius Norwich was born in the United Kingdom and served in the Royal Navy before receiving a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. After graduation, he joined the H. M. Foreign Service and served in Belgrade, Beirut, and as a member of British delegation to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1954, he inherited the title of Viscount Norwich. In 1964, he resigned from the ...more

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