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on 2 March 2016
'The Great Nation' attempts to cover France's history from 1715 (death of Louis XIV) to 1799 (Napoleon grabs power) which is ambitious, even in 600 very densely covered pages using very small letters. This is a serious book. I think the writer's grasp of the subject is impressive, but I was a bit less impressed by his ability to amuse non-academic readers. As I was reading, I could not help wondering what this book would have been like, had it been written by, say, Tim Blanning, the master of pith.

Clearly, my view is biased: I feel there is a lot of emphasis on politics (aristos in parliament infighting, or going head-to-head with the king or his 'ministry') as well as on religion, and very little about the wars. In fact, when the wars are discussed, it is primarily from the perspective of economics and politics (who paid for, and who ran the war from Paris). Again, this is my personal viewpoint - I just happen to find Maurice de Saxe's exploits more interesting than all Jansenist and anti-Jansenist arguments together, but someone else might disagree. A nice example of how the book manages to under-excite is the description of the events of 1787 (Prussia invading The Netherlands to intervene in a civil war, against France's explicit warning - France does nothing for lack of money, the monarchy suffers catastrophic loss of face, a key factor in its downfall). These dramatic events could have been nicely milked for a good story, but instead they are treated in a few lines of flat text.

In conclusion, this is a very educational book, full of useful and important information, but I wish it had been a somewhat easier read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 January 2009
Colin Jones's The Great Nation is history of the grand narrative type. In one long roller-coaster ride, its takes the reader from the death of Louis XIV to the seizure of power by Napoleon in 1799. Jones's emphasis is on continuity, his theory that France remained a country centred around the glory and brilliance of its court and rulers.

Within this theme, anecdotes and boudoir history are especially highlighted, making this generally fun to read while of course not avoiding more conventionally political or constitutional events. But Jones's version of the old regime and the revolution are very current, very fashionable, dwelling on court intrigue and the importance of an emerging `public sphere'. This makes for a certain kind of writing, which while amusing as a story - Jones obviously loves his subject, and has entertaining titles and chapters like `diamonds: not a queen's best friend', taking us to Versailles's gardens at night and then onto the vitriolic Paris pamphleteer's scene - is sometimes short on analysis. Students interested in, say, the monarchy's fiscal problems will have to look elsewhere for data. Jones's view is that old regime France's fragility had to do with court faction, dependence on foreign policy success, and a critical public opinion. Everyone is free to disagree.
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on 15 May 2005
I would recommend this book to any A-level student studying the period 1688 - 1789. This book is very good for background knowledge and making notes. The author offers tantalising insights into France.
I was dubious at first at buying a history book which covers such a large period, but the author meet all my expectations. In easy to find chapters and sections exploring France on an international and administrative level.
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on 10 April 2015
Good facts and ideas, especially about the encyclopedists and about provincial culture;
sloppily pretentious style with a scatter of solecisms.
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on 3 February 2013
I really liked the book, good read with some great analysis at times. Goes into a lot of detail into events before the French Revolution and adds to the post-revisionist arguments of cultural vitality to the Revolution
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on 29 July 2012
This is a very detailed French political history, covering the French Revolution. I'm rereading as it's
such a fascinating subject, but, you have to be committed to some deep reading, but, well worth it.
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on 11 October 2012
I so wanted to read this, it is a scholarly work indeed but sadly the pompous writing style, excessive use of words that even my 80 year old mother who is a retired professor of English Language had trouble defining, made this a turgid and difficult read.

It does explain the period well, but it seems like its a self-satisfying pronouncement on the cleverness of the admittedly learned author. You wouldn't be able to read this book unless you really seriously needed to, it could never pass as a relaxing informative read.

That said, as one would imagine, it's exceptionally researched and factual. Some is interpretive, maybe even deconstruction can be identified in places as the author tries to explain in his own self-acknowledging expertise quite what he's trying to get at.

In short this book is best read by one person - the author. It feels not written to inform but to explain what the author knows and his viewpoint of it, which it seems he considers utterly sacrosanct.

Dull as dishwater because of the writing style to read, but if you need a lecture and need to know the subject for some reason, you need to read it.
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on 9 March 2016
A quality piece of work. Scholarship combined with good writing.
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on 12 April 2016
Excellent livre d'histoire généraliste sur la France
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on 7 August 2015
Great book for the price
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