French-born and American-read, Mrs. Bishop here offers an apercu of the essence of France -- its diverse climate and landscape; its traditional politesse and stratification coupled with anarchic individualism; its relish of good food and good talk; its respect for the arts and intellect; also the tensions it faces today in trying to reconcile deep-rooted patterns with the pressures of an expanding, exceptionally youthful population and an advancing technology. The section on history is too fragmentary and personal for the uninititate save perhaps in the discussion of the Dreyfus case; the account of architecture, painting and sculpture suffers from the paucity of illustration, that of literature from too brief mention, often in the form of lists. Informal and fluid as it is, the book is less viable as a reference source than as an orientation for the prospective visitor. And yet the historical recap of the peasant's and the factory worker's position, and of the student dissatisfactions that exploded in the May Revolution, are firm, thoughtful and thorough. Altogether, insight and awareness give it a particular relevance for the young in and out of school.