A zesty, entertaining romp through the landscape of French food.



A Francophile takes a spirited jaunt through French history, focused on food.

A resident of Paris since 1986, Downie (A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light, 2015, etc.), whose enthusiasm for food and travel has resulted in more than a dozen books, offers a loving, celebratory, and irreverent look at French eating habits, from ancient times to the present. Short, pithy chapters brim with quirky details: frog legs, so quintessentially French, were “beloved of the centurions and gourmets of antiquity”; mustard, too, was a Roman favorite. Not until the 17th century did dining rooms exist in Parisian residences, and knives and forks came late to the French table. In the court of Louis XIV, diners ate “quickly and greedily,” licking their fingers with pleasure. Meals were abundant: “everyone but the poorest devoured unimaginable quantities of meat,” including veal, mutton, beef, and various species of bird, along with eel and fish. In the 1700s, French cuisine became “the unofficial state religion,” and “nouvelle cuisine” was invented, with “theorists, chemists, chefs, philosophers,” and assorted other experts engaged in parsing the meaning of taste “and the differences between gluttons, gourmets, gastronomes, and other varieties of eaters.” The first restaurants appeared in the mid-1700s; by 1789, there were about 50, which burgeoned to 3,000 by 1814. Downie recounts the culinary influence of Grimod de la Reynière and his more famous contemporary Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of many food-related aphorisms. “The destiny of nations,” he wrote, “depends on the way they feed themselves.” The author also offers capsule reviews—not always favorable—of some of Paris’ 10,000 restaurants. He is not a fan of pretension, noise, corporate ownership, stratospheric prices, or what he calls “karaoke cuisine,” characterized by “industrial sauce,” microwaved entrees, “multiple courses for under $20,” and “pink and familiar decor.” His disdain is especially harsh regarding “super-bobo” eateries with “could-be-anywhere cooking.”

A zesty, entertaining romp through the landscape of French food.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08293-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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