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The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography From the Revolution to the First World War by Graham Robb
With The Discovery of France, Graham Robb originally intended to travel around France by bicycle and write a historical guidebook to France. What he discovered, however, was that the idea of France, united in history, language, and culture for centuries, was far from the truth. France, historically, has been a collection of different regions, and villages within each region, with different dialects and traditions that were only bound together by trade routes. The French language was actually a minority language. People identified themselves by their region of birth before identifying themselves as French. Graham Robb examines not just this cultural history, but the geographic history that was unknown to most French for centuries. The Discovery of France has received positive reviews with the London Times saying, "The book is an elegy to what has disappeared, a retrospective exploration of that lost world. Robb shows vividly that it was a cruel and precarious world - where people went into semi-hibernation during the bleak and hungry winter to conserve food, and where the elderly were expected not to linger once they were useless - but it was also a place of unimaginable variety and ingenuity. He shows that modernisation was in many ways a narrowing of life, the end of an everyday epic of human beings living in a natural world only partly overcome."