Monday 14 November 2011
Lucien Romier, A History of France
I am very much tempted to leave you with a shortest review in the world today (i.e. 'don't read'), but a verdict so crushing as this surely requires some explanation. Here it is.
I've been through my share of boring academical textbooks, and yes, I have seen worse that Romier's, but not many. I'm not that sure if the book is meant for college students either. Most of the secondary-education titles I've known tend to be more polemical in nature, as in 'here's the most likely theory, here's the evidence, it's your job to confirm or disprove it'. A History of France is very dogmatic. This and this happened, in such and such way, with so and so involved, over. No space for discussion or varying theories.
As if history ever was so simple.
Another feature I didn't much like (although you may, especially if you happen to be a Frenchman): A History of France was written by a Frenchman, for Frenchmen. Which is fine by me, theoretically, but practically - a foreigner might find all this patriotism a tad tiring. I'm not particularly attached to my own nationality and the 'proud history of my country', I'm even less likely to be moved by a proud history of a country that is not my own. I suspect I'm not the only one.
I just wonder if all this patriotism doesn't colour Romier's facts a bit. I don't know enough of French history to judge it, but A History of France reads very much like 'the official history' - oops, we did some nasty things in the past, and while we obviously don't make excuses, it was the best possible course of action in circumstances, and if only other nations followed our enlightened lead, etc. etc. I'm exaggerating, obviously, Romier doesn't use exactly those words, but the trend is there.
A History of France is quite digestible at the beginning, but the further you go, the worse it gets. Somewhere after The Great Revolution the text turns into strings of names (that mean nothing to an uninitiated reader) and political programs of all the fractions fighting for power over the course of last two centuries. If political history of France happens to be your hobby, you will surely love it, otherwise - run like hell. I'm not tempted to quit the book before the end too often, but in this case I had to struggle with myself. The last hundred pages were pure torture and let me say this officially - this is not what I'm looking for in a book.
The only thing I can say in Romier's defence is the book's age: A History of France was originally published in 1953. Those were totally different times, with propaganda being a popular mind-shaping tool. That excuses him. Sort of.