Tour de France

From The New York Times:

France The moral of the story, as Graham Robb’s “Discovery of France: A Historical Geography From the Revolution to the First World War” makes clear, is that France is not a unified cultural monolith, but rather “a vast encyclopedia of micro-civilizations,” each with its own long history, intricate belief systems and singular customs. Yet according to Robb, who has written biographies of Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac and Arthur Rimbaud, these microcivilizations “were not formless planetoids waiting to be swallowed by a giant state,” and their inhabitants didn’t constitute “a shapeless mass of human raw material, waiting to be processed by the huge, mutating machine of political interference and turned into the people conveniently known as ‘the French.’” With exhaustive research and a witty, engaging narrative style, Robb corrects this misconception by showing how, even as modern developments like democracy and the steam engine transformed France from “a land of ancient tribal divisions” into a centralized nation-state, a wealth of regional particularities persisted in “disparate, concurrent spheres.” In its pivotal years between the revolution and World War I, France emerges in Robb’s telling as a land where the past did not morph seamlessly into the future; a land where diversity existed in a permanent tug of war with uniformity; “a land in which mule trains coincided with railway trains, and where witches and explorers were still gainfully employed when Gustave Eiffel was changing the skyline of Paris.”

More here.