The lesson of France and Italy - the worse the country, the better the wine

25 May 2013

Although I promise to move on to drink, forgive me for beginning with a less interesting but even more complex subject: government. It is easy to patronise the Italians. The… Read more


Don’t believe the hype: the French still live better than Americans

4 May 2013

In recent months I’ve read at least ten articles about French malaise — all of it apparently due to some mysterious Gallic trait that makes the world’s luckiest people unable… Read more

The armoured cars of Leclerc’s division arrive at the Rue Guynemer on 25 August

Eleven Days in August, by Matthew Cobb - review

4 May 2013
Eleven Days in August: The Liberation of Paris in 1944 Matthew Cobb

Simon and Schuster, pp.525, £25, ISBN: 9780857203175

It is fair to assume that Professor Matthew Cobb has often been asked if he is related to Professor Richard Cobb since he begins the acknowledgements of his new book… Read more


Why should our children be more like the French?

27 April 2013

I’ve no particular beef with the French, gruesomely tortured beef as it would no doubt be, but I’m a little tired of being told we ought to follow their example… Read more


Why France's gay marriage debate has started to look like a revolution

27 April 2013

Paris: Revolutions are often sparked by an unexpected shock to an already weakened regime. As commentators in France remark not only on the crisis engulfing François Hollande’s government but also on… Read more

Thatcher changed the City for the better – but human nature led it astray

13 April 2013

‘Margaret had no love for the banks,’ Nigel Lawson wrote in The View from No. 11. The idea that the amoral greed of the City and the banking crisis it… Read more


Storm in a wastepaper basket

11 February 2012
The Dreyfus Affair Piers Paul Read

Bloomsbury, pp.408, 25

‘It’s the revenge of Dreyfus,’ came the cry from the dock. The speaker was the veteran right-wing ideologue, Charles Maurras, found guilty of treason in 1945 for his support of… Read more

Chagrin d’amour

19 November 2011
The Horror of Love: Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London Lisa Hilton

Orion, pp.263, 20

The horror of love: Nancy Mitford’s first fiancé was gay; her husband, Peter Rodd, was feckless, spendthrift and unsympathetic, and her great amour, Gaston Palewski, was endlessly unfaithful. She met… Read more

French with tears

6 August 2011
When the World Spoke French Marc Fumaroli, translated from the French by Richard Howard

NYRB Classics, pp.576, 11.99

The civilised world has always needed a lingua franca, through which educated people of international outlook can communicate with each other. For centuries that language was Latin, first the language… Read more


Hall of mirrors

4 June 2011
And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-occupied Paris Alan Riding

Duckworth Overlook, pp.399, 20

After the Nazi occupation of Paris was over, Sartre famously said — somewhat hypocritically, given his own slippery behaviour — that the only possibilities had been collaboration or resistance. After… Read more

Very drôle

28 May 2011
Paris Revealed Stephen Clarke

Bantam, pp.278, 10.99

It’s nice to know that the trees lining the roads in Paris have microchips embedded in their trunks, that the city council is controlling the pigeon population by shaking the… Read more


Setting the world to rights

7 May 2011
Wicked Company: Freethinkers and Friendship in Pre-Revolutionary Paris Philipp Blom

Weidenfeld, pp.384, 25

Wicked Company is the collective biography of a group of men with little in common, apart from a generalised dissatisfaction with the state of the world around them. Perhaps that… Read more


Massacre of the innocents

12 March 2011
The Killer of Little Shepherds: The Case of the French Ripper and the Birth of Forensic Science Douglas Starr

Simon & Schuster, pp.312, 16.99

‘La justice flétrit, la prison corrompt et la société a les criminels qu’elle mérite’ — Justice withers, prison corrupts, and society gets the criminals it deserves. ‘La justice flétrit, la… Read more


The French connection

7 August 2010
The House with Blue Shutters Lisa Hilton

Corvus, pp.419, 7.99

If ever there was a novel to which that old adage about not judging a book by its cover could be applied, it’s this one. If ever there was a… Read more


L’homme qui dit non

31 July 2010
The General Jonathan Fenby

Simon & Schuster, pp.707, 30

The study of history is a subversive calling. All countries make up a story that suits their idea of themselves. Authoritarians stamp out independent historical scholarship; extreme nationalists simply vilify… Read more


Scourge of the ancien régime

14 April 2010
Voltaire Ian Davidson

Profile, pp.538, 25

Voltaire’s was a long and amazing life. Voltaire’s was a long and amazing life. He was tragedian, satirist, mathematician, courtier, exile, jailbird, swindler, gardener, plutocrat, watchmaking entrepreneur, penal reform campaigner,… Read more


The people and the place

7 April 2010
Parisians Graham Robb

Picador, pp.462, 18.99

Where to begin? Graham Robb, like all dedicated Francophiles, begins early, when his enlightened parents made him a present of a trip to Paris and sent him off with a… Read more


The reality behind the novels

10 March 2010
The Life of Irène Némirovsky: 1903-1942 Oliver Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt, translated by Euan Cameron

Chatto, pp.466, 25

‘I never knew peaceful times’, Irène Némirovsky once said, ‘I’ve always lived in anxiety and often in danger’. ‘I never knew peaceful times’, Irène Némirovsky once said, ‘I’ve always lived… Read more


Not as bad as the French

10 March 2010
Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England Anthony Julius

OUP, pp.811, 25

This is a long book, but its argument can be shortly stated. Anthony Julius believes that anti-Semitism is a persistent and influential theme in English history, which is all the… Read more

Prize-winning novels from France

30 December 2009

After an unremarkable year for fiction the Prix Goncourt was awarded to Marie Ndiaye for a novel — actually three novellas — which must have beguiled the judges by the… Read more

Poisonous relations

30 December 2009
England’s Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy, 1940-1942 Colin Smith

Weidenfeld, pp.490, 25

‘The Axis powers and France,’ declared Marshall Pétain and Hitler at Montoire in October 1940, ‘have a common interest in the defeat of England as soon as possible.’ Why this… Read more

Disastrous twilight

14 December 2009
The Dogs and the Wolves Irène Némirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith

Chatto, pp.216, 16.99

With the opening paragraph of The Dogs and the Wolves (first serialised in France in 1939 and never previously translated) Irène Némirovsky takes us to the heart of her story:… Read more


Mysteries of Paris

11 March 2009
The Chalk Circle Man Fred Vargas, translated by Si

Harvill Secker, pp.247, 12.99

Fred Vargas — nom-de-plume of the French archaeologist and historian Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau — took to writing crime novels in 1991. Among the many unusual aspects of her books is the… Read more


From palace to cowshed

25 February 2009
Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution Caroline Moorehead

Chatto & Windus, pp.496, 20

Madame de la Tour du Pin’s Journal d’une Femme de Cinquante Ans, with its vivid descriptions of her experiences during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire, is one of… Read more

Chalk and cheese

26 November 2008
The British in France: Visitors and Residents since the Revolution Peter Thorold

Continuum, pp.273, 30

The British in France: Visitors and Residents since the Revolution, by Peter Thorold Peter Thorold has not written an orthodox history of French and British political cultural and social relations.… Read more