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A History of France by John Julius Norwich
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bookshelves: 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 Caesar’s 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 in just 14 pages! He takes only 18 pages to cover next 300 years. The pace slows down a bit after that and as the narrative comes closer to the present, Mr. Norwich does cover events more in depth.

Mr Norwich’s writing style is almost conversational. He digresses at points, sometimes wanders off on tangents for a paragraph or two. When he does this, he comes back to the topic at hand with a comment to the effect of, well that really isn’t the point of this book, so let’s get back to the topic.

As I mentioned above, the page count is quite short, so this is mainly a French political history. The French cultural contributions are hardly mentioned. He covers all the Kings and gives his opinion on what kind of ruler they were. The ones he considers important to France becoming a nation state, are covered much more in depth. Those Kings include various Louis’ (including maybe the most important Louis – Louis XIV)

His coverage of the French Revolution is also well done. Mr. Norwich looks both the how and why of the revolution, as well as how it devolved from the high ideals that it started with to Napoleon crowing himself Emperor in 1801 in 12 yrs.

In addition to the public lives of the various rulers, the author give a peek at their private ones as well. He gossips about the relationships the Kings had with their Queens as well as their many, many mistresses. In discussing the Royal Mistresses, he tells how being the King’s Mistress almost became an official court position. In many cases they became important and valued advisors. In relating the tales of their personal lives, the author shares some vary salacious tales.

As the story reaches the 19th century, the author gets a bit more in-depth in his story telling. He does a superb job of telling of the end of the Bourbon dynasty. Surprisingly, the author considers the last King of France, Louis-Phillippe, one of the better Kings. The author's opinion is that he was head and shoulders above his immediate predecessors. The rise of Napoleon III and his political demise is also covered as well as the various Republics.

Finally, the author choses to end his narrative with end of World War II and the rise of De Gaulle. His stated reason for ending with WW II is that he has memories of the people and events, so the story is no longer history. As the son of British Ambassador to France during and immediately after the war, Mr. Norwich actually met the General and he shares his first hand opinions of him that are not flattering. He also provides other people’s opinions that agree with his.

All is all, this is a delightful read, a good introduction to French history, but by no means an in depth look at any of the eras. For someone who a good knowledge of French History, there is probably nothing new. That said it is a good primer and a delightful, fun read. I would rate this a solid 4 stars and I will miss waiting for Mr. Norwich’s next project
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Reading Progress

January 23, 2019 – Shelved
January 23, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
January 27, 2019 – Started Reading
January 28, 2019 –
page 105
January 30, 2019 –
page 206
February 2, 2019 – Shelved as: history-general
February 2, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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'Aussie Rick' Nice review Happy, its a pretty good book eh!

message 2: by Andy (new)

Andy Second time Ive heard good things about this author recently

message 3: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Iciek A wonderful writer. His "A Short History of Byzantium" got me started down a long and winding path.

happy My first Norwich was his Trilogy on Byzantium of which a Short History... is an abridgement.

Wonderful writer and a least one reader will miss him

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