The history of French colonialism is almost a pretext for this engaging and anecdotal volume. Rosenbaum, an Associated Press correspondent in Paris and a latent Francophile, reveals the pretensions and pomposity of the French in an effective journalistic style, sprinkled with amusing quotations, and some frightening insights on French conduct in the political arena. The first chapters, on France and the French, are an entertaining examination of the ego and eccentricities of this singularly influential country and its people. This is not an academic treatise, and the historical chapters which follow are expedient, almost lyrical reading with lively and even gruesome details of the battles, political scandals and corruption that formulated French colonial policy. Rosenbaum traces French conquests pre-Charlemagne, through the Crusades, the Kings, the revolution and the Napoleons to the 20th century. Explicit descriptions of the carnage and torture of the wars in Indochina and Algeria are accompanied by interviews of servicemen living through the experience. Modern-day crises in the Middle East--hostage incidents, the Iraqi nuclear reactor, relations with the oil states--are examined with a reporter's eye, from behind the diplomatic facade. Recent upheavals in New Caledonia, the Caribbean and Haiti, as well as the Greenpeace Affair, are dissected with attention to the ""flexible"" morality that often cloaks French political postures. In sum, Rosenbaum sets out to expose the failings and foibles of France and the reality behind its ""mission to civilize"" its colonies and the world. He does so and yet manages to leave the reader with a lingering, if irrational, admiration for the people and the county which has had such enormous impact on culture and civilization around the globe.