La Belle France is a sweeping, grand narrative written with all the verve, erudition and vividness that are the hallmarks of the acclaimed British historian Alistair Horne. It recounts the hugely absorbing story of the country that has contributed to the world so much talent, style and political innovation.
Beginning with Julius Caesar’s division of Gaul into three parts, Horne leads us—in quick, illuminating vignettes—through the ages: from Charlemagne, Philippe-Auguste and the Sun King, Louis XIV, to Cardinal Richelieu and Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac. He shows us a country that has suffered and survived seemingly endless warfare: the Hundred Years’ War, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian War, World Wars I and II and colonial battles in Indochina and Algeria. He gives us luminous portraits of the nation’s great leaders, but he is as thorough and compelling in his discussions of the lives of the peasants, the haute bourgeoisie, the sansculottes of the Revolution and the great philosophers and writers, artists and composers—Montaigne, Voltaire, Balzac, Renoir, Bizet, Monet, Proust, Satie and Sartre, among them—who have helped shape Western thought and culture.
This is a captivating, beautifully illustrated and comprehensive yet concise history of France.