This millennial look at the history of Britain and France is told with wry, sometimes childishly irritating, and rarely laugh-inducing humour. It’s pretty comprehensive, coming in at just under 650 pages, and it’s not all as good as the rest of it.
Beginning with William the Conqueror (not French) and ending with Nicolas Sarkozy (French), Clarke covers a fair bit of ground including food, battles, trade, battles, Canada, battles, wine, battles, Voltaire, battles, the French Revolution and battles. Oh, and there are about seven chapters dedicated to Napoleon.
You learn a lot about the impact of France on the world. In many cases, as the book has a clear anti-French bias (albeit tongue-in-cheek apparently) Clarke takes pains to point out where our common understanding of the influence of France on history is misplaced.
Although history is the opinion of whoever decides to interpret certain selected facts a certain way, it’s helpful to know that there are alternative ways to interpret facts so that the French don’t get the glory for many things they think they’re responsible for. As a Brit, that’s very satisfying.
Despite it being a whimsical ride for the most part, it did drag from time to time, and I was glad to get it over with. There are far too many dad jokes in here for me. He’s a writer, not a comedian.
I can see this being something of a good read on holiday or on the plane. Something to pick up and put down. It’s interesting enough. But Clarke is no Bryson, and I couldn’t help but wish our USAnian friend could have advised him.