Friend or Foe: An Anglo-Saxon History of France by Alistair Home - review by Sudhir Hazareesing

Sudhir Hazareesing

The Old Enemy

Friend or Foe: An Anglo-Saxon History of France


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 256pp £25 order from our bookshop

FRIEND OR FOE covers a daunting range: the history of France from Caesar to modern times. The narration is brisk, and the book is at its best when it evokes some of the same turbulent moments in France's national history as have Horne's classic earlier works: the wars of medieval times, the many sieges of Paris, the Napoleonic era, the First World War, the occupation years of 1940-1944, and the Algerian war. There are also some vivid portraits of French rulers across the ages - notably Philippe Auguste, François I, Napoleon Bonaparte, de Gaulle, and Mitterrand. The author is extremely knowledgeable about the physical history of Paris, and he effectively maps out how a succession of rulers from Henri IV onwards have redesigned the city into its present shape, constructing such famous landmarks as the Place des Vosges, the Palais-Royal, the Invalides and the Grands Boded. Horne's account of the post-1944 period, which takes up the last three chapters, is interspersed with interesting anecdotes drawn from years of first-hand experience of France.

While all these ingrements help to make the book eminently readable, they unfortunately do not hold the narrative together. Horne offers no overarching framework to make sense of France's history. The book is subtitled 'An Anglo-Saxon History of France', but Horne pointedly warns the reader that his account is 'highly

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