Undeniably, America had a banner run in the twentieth century. No country came anywhere close to achieving such power and prosperity for those one hundred years. You killed it, US of A! But should we venture back to the centuries directly preceding the last, one country towers above the others in terms of culture, science, political thought, influence, and wealth: France. Yes, France, for even as the 1789 Revolution dominated European events for decades, Paris in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was bustling with most of the world’s leading astronomers, physicists, biologists, and chemists.
France in the World: A New Global History, a collection of one hundred-plus short essays, provides a most inviting entree to the breadth of French history, from 34,000 BCE to 2015, all written by acclaimed historians, both new and established. Originally published in France as Historie mondiale de la France in 2017 and hailed as the “the literary phenomenon of the year,” the project was conceived in the harsh light of Brexit, Trump’s presidency, and rising nationalism. Editorially, Patrick Boucheron and his colleagues sought to address what it means to be a nation in a globalized world, as well as a question posed by Nicolas Sarkozy’s former prime minister Francois Fillon: “With our homeland desperately thirsting for meaning, with the threat of internal division looming, shouldn’t our schools impart the story of the nation?”
Approachable and entertaining, yet academically driven, France in the World is written by historians intent on helping readers make use of France’s singular past.
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