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on 21 August 2010
That great French icon the Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte once defined history as "a series of lies on which we agree" but is clear from reading this book that while there are plenty of lies told in the history of Anglo-French relations, there is little agreement between them.
Do not be fooled by the journalistic approach, chatty style, and episodes of facetiousness, this is a history book and a good one. It's a comprehensive account of where English (and sometimes Scottish, and later British) and French national histories meet, interact, overlap, or collide. It is well-researched and packed with information while being very readable - I found it a real page-turner, and as someone who reads a lot of history I can say that that's not always the case in this field! For those schooled on the "agreed lies" of history - and there are a lot of them in this area, where national pride plays such a part - it will be an eye-opener.
I wonder what sort of reviews it's getting on the French Amazon site.
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on 4 June 2012
An ideal book to read curled up on the sofa in front of the fire on a cold night (most nights in the UK)if you're female, or settled on the privy if you're a bloke- except for Oxford dons or donnas, or whatever lady dons are called, who probably wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.
Some reviewers take the Francophobe thing a bit too seriously, and in fact if your school days were spent desperately trying to stay awake during snoozeville school history lessons, this is a pretty good way of tracing Anglo-Saxon (Mr Clarke pulls in the Americans quite a bit)-French relationships over the last millenium, filling many gaps we weren't taught much about, such as colonial and exploration rivalries in far flung corners of the planet, as well as cultural issues ranging from spats over cuisine to fashion. Humour abounds, but the author doesn't skimp on uncomfortable events where Brits or English don't come out well either His affection for France and the French is obvious-after all, don't most of us poke the most fun at our friends?
I have to say there is one tiny thing that does irritate me in this book. When he's dealing with WWII, Mr Clarke refers to German 'Panzer tanks'. 'Panzer' is simply German for 'tank' or 'armoured', so he's actually saying 'tank tank' or 'panzer panzer'. It's either just plain 'tank' or 'panzer'. So there we go, a Brit irritated by something in a book about irritating the French on a matter which has nothing to do with the French at all.
I suppose the acid test is the answers to the questions: would this book enourage me to read further on the subjects he covers, or read one of his other books? The answer is very likely, on both counts.
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on 14 June 2010
Ive heard rumours of the French's alternative view on history but reading through this book I was struck at how bad it is! That's not to say that this book is an anti-french tirade, because its clearly and constructively written by someone who speaks the langauge and knows the french very well, and knows what he's talking about. Ok, towards the end it turns more into how the french piff off the world and not just the British, but it's still incredibly interesting stuff. History buffs will probably hate the book because it summarises in a few pages what they'd like to explain in 1,000 pages but for people like me that are interested in history but never had the chance to really study it I think it's a godsend. My only partial gripe is that after so much in-depth analysis of early history that last century is rapidly gone through - particularly postwar. Like with Andrew Marr's History of Britain series, it kinds of ignores focusing on our rapid postwar decline as a nation (probably for good reason!) and the reasons behind it.

Definitely a good read and a steal at that price too.
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on 28 June 2013
I lived in France for a few years and found this book a powerful antidote! A leisurely and informally-written look at Anglo-French history and relations. Not, on the other hand, for those looking for a more scholarly appraisal of that eternal football match: Rosbifs v. Crapauds.
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on 3 March 2013
As a bit of a history fan (and being quite old) I already know the more ubiquitous stuff but, even so, there were lots of snippets in this book that I hadn't heard of before and I found it fascinating. Even stuff that I already knew was often presented in a new light. The style is fluid and the short sections make for easy digestion and the thread of humour running throughout is at just the right level to raise the occasional wry smile.

The Kindle layout doesn't suit this book as there are lots of author's notes which would be at the bottom of a paper page or at the end of a chapter but, in Kindle, by the time that you get to them, their point is lost.

If there is one complaint about this book it's that even I, as no fan of all things French (I guess you wouldn't buy this book otherwise!) was a little uncomfortable with the extreme and unrelenting level of the Francophobia; in some cases, the author seems to have to wriggle to extreme lengths to 'prove' the French version wrong. So much so that, in the end, I found myself cheering for the French as the underdog, defending themselves against the nasty author; not, I guess, Mr Clarke's intention.

This isn't a novel and, unlike novels, I will go back and dip into this book from time to time, even if just to bore my friends with trivia!

There are lots of quotations and some are so good that I've saved them for further use!

All in all, this is a good read and well worth the money.
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on 27 November 2011
This book is a 'must' for people who like France and the French. It's very well written as well as being educational. I'm looking forward to reading more of Stephen Clarke's work!
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on 15 October 2012
I must admit that, against my better judgement, I really enjoyed this book. As something of a Francophile, the first few chapters made me think that this was going to be a kind of French-bashing history written for Sun readers but the quality of writing and the degree of humour is well above that. Towards the end of the book, it is clear that Clarke is fond of the French and perhaps this book serves as a tongue and cheek reposte to the kind of gentle jibes you get subject to in France.

This book interested me as one of my passions is history and as someone who has spent a great deal of time visiting museums on my holidays in France I've always felt that France and England are like opposite sides of the same coin. There are, in fact, far more similarities or shared experiences between these countries thyat Clarke would have us imagine and another author could quite easily write a tome which dealt with 1000 years of co-operation, similarities or even affection. This might be an argument that could be reinforced had the period in question gone back to Celtic or Roman times where distinctions would have been even more blurred.

Of course, as a piece of historical writing, no one should take this book seriously. In the earlier parts of the book the definition of who is French and English has been selected to make the book more readable. Later on, English reverses against the French in the Hundred Years War are ignored - anyone familiar with Juliet Barker's books on that era will note that atleast one of these victories which was a far more decisive battle than Agincourt has been omitted. The later elements of the book are quite interesting too and it is pleasing that the book is simply not a list of battles won by the Brits (even if the accounts of wars in America and India are fascinating due to their unfamiliarity.) Some elements do have you nodding in agreement. De Gaulle was clearly only interested in liberating France and the wider picture of defeating Nazi tyranny was lost on him. For me, he is an much a pantomine villain as Napoleon and is one Frenchman I would take to task. Elsewhere, a balanced persepctive is ignored so that the unpopularity of Wellington as a Prime Minister as opposed to his military abilities is ignored. The author is quick to point out failings by any French equivalents and this would have been highlighted had Wellington been French.

In summary, this book is great fun and although it judiciously plays with the facts to suit the tone the author was looking for, I found it difficult to put this down. At the same time, it was a little disappointing insofar that I am fond of the French and have enjoyed many an hour learning things in discussions with museum staff or friends which emphasize the links between our two countries. Earlier this year I had a good discussion with a bloke in one of the museums in Reims who seemed keen to demonstrate how the Champagne region of France had shaped English history. Recalling that conversation whilst reading this book did make me feel a bit guilty and maybe a follow up volume which perhaps showed how France genuinely shaped the history of England in a positive fashion would make an excellent sequel. Having read quite a bit about French history (especially during Roman and early Medieval times) and visited countless museums, ampitheatres, castles, ruins and cathedrals, Frances' history is no less glorious than Englands and unquestionably richer the further that you go back in time. Britain never had a city that could rival anything in France during the Roman period , for eaxmple. I would welcome a book by this author that looked at this aspect !
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This amusing gallop through the last thousand years of the relationship between France and the various parts of the British Isles is a bit like an updated and more grown-up (and much less inaccurate) version of "1066 and all that" combined with a much more adult version of TV's "Horrible histories" series.

Author Stephen Clarke doesn't really dislike the French but he loves teasing them, and particularly loves pointing out the discrepancies between their illusions and the truth - but he has no qualms whatsoever in exposing the similar discrepancies in the English (or Scots) view of history or about taking the mickey out of the Brits.

From the Norman conquest to the present day, Clarke has great fun skewering the myths which people on both sides of the channel - and indeed, the Atlantic - have believed about the relationship between these islands and our French neighbours.

Examples of the humour in the books:

(After mentioning that the Icelandic Sagas were not stocked in French public libraries in the 1400s:)

"Probably because in the 15th century France didn't have any public libraries."

(Of Voltaire's books about how much more democratic the English aristocracy was than the French ...)

"Yes, an 18th century English Lord as a model of democracy: it makes you realise just how bad things must have been in Paris."

(of the Halifax Gibbet, which was basically a guillotine used in Yorkshire to decapitate criminals many centuries before the French copied the idea)

"And by the look of the modern replica standing in Gibbet Street, Halifax today, if that thing came down on your neck your head would fly half-way accross Yorkshire."

On the incident at the Battle of the Nile which was immortalised in Felicia Hemans poem "Casabianca" concerning the legend of the boy who declined to abandon the French flagship at the Battle of the Nile when she was on fire and about to blow up, Clarke agrees with Spike Milligan:

"It is heroic but perhaps a little silly to stand there when your more experienced shipmates tell you to jump for your life. As the comedy writer Spike Milligan once said,

The boy stood on the burning deck,
whence all but he had fled,
The twit!"

This book also points out that Barak Obama became an Anglo-Saxon in French eyes on the day he was elected president of the USA ...

Generally the book seems to be pretty accurate: I did find a few very minor errors. For example the book describes General Comte de Lally, the French equivalent of Admiral Byng (e.g. he was executed as a scapegoat after losing a campaign), as having been guillotined. In fact he was beheaded using a more old fashioned method than the guillotine, which had not yet been adopted in France in 1766.

But none of the errors I found were significant.

Not the most scholarly or serious account of Anglo-French relations. But definately good for a laugh.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 August 2012
I read a lot of history books, but I have to admit that few of them are as entertaining as this one. It is a great, fun to read and well researched summary of Anglo-French relations since the time of William the Conqueror. I was afraid from the title that it would turn into an orgy of one-sided French bashing, but that is not the case. Stephen Clarke is a Francophile and although the book is written to tease French readers, it does so by pointing undeniable historical facts, not by rewriting history or proposing distorted subjective views.

Some books have good passages and slower or more boring parts, but I found this book to be enjoyable from the first page to last last, truly unputdownable.
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on 24 March 2010
Intrigued by the cover and title, I purchased this a few days ago, and am absolutely loving it! It's a very readable, really intersting alternative history of anglo-French relations over the last century, which made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions. It also told me things I had no idea about. Poor Joan of Arc! And who knew that the guillotine was actually invented in Halifax? It is as easy to read as a novel, yet is about stuff that really happened. Highly recommended for everyone who likes France, and who likes to be entertained.
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