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A competent but pedestrian survey with no particular interpretive perspective beyond a serene, vague, centrist bias. Up through the 18th century Knapton conscientiously includes demographic, socioeconomic and fiscal matters but given the thinness of his post-Revolutionary narrative he must hope the reader has assimilated 19th- and 20th-century French literature. The political progression of the Revolution receives no real analysis; the spectacular economies of the Restoration and Second Empire are neglected; the Paris Commune rates a few paragraphs as a disturbance en route to the Third Republic; Knapton seems to think sheer Anglophobia explains the French elite's willingness to collaborate with the Germans after military defeat; the postwar role of the Communist Party, the Indochina defeat, the Algerian withdrawal, and the May Days of 1968 are barely touched upon. Throughout the book there are cultural-intellectual summaries on an extremely banal level. Knapton, an emeritus professor of history at Wheaton College and the author of several books including the well-received Empress Josephine (1963), manages to give a faint taste of the aesthetic richness of his subject and the intellectual challenge it presents, but he develops neither. Adequate one-volume French histories in English are rare: the Jackson-Butterfield Short History of France (1959) is far too skimpy, Guerard's France, A Modern History (1959) develops Knapton's bromidic point of view with greater elegance and erudition, Cairns' France (1965) is said to be heavily weighted to the present; Romier's History of France (1959) is briefer but more sensitive than Knapton to socioeconomic constellations and more stimulating, while Maurois' History of France (1959) is livelier and more forthrightly interpretive. Given the abundance and availability of first-rate studies of more delimited but still broad periods in French history, this book seems altogether inessential.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1971
Publisher: Scribners