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France on the Brink: A Great Civilization Faces a New Century Paperback – 14 Jul 2000

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 454 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; Reprint edition (14 July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559705248
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559705240
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 3.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,868,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Pierre-Yves Sonalet
Any book, be it fiction or non-fiction, not only tells its own story - and this one tells a great deal about its subject - but also something about its author. There is no exception with the hefty volume that British journalist and South China Morning Post editor Jonathan Fenby has written about his beloved home-from-home, France. In On the Brink, in which Fenby expresses his holistic point of view about what he sees as 'the trouble with France', it seems one can distinguish at least four different lines of inspiration or attitudes.
The more amiable one to a French person is that of the epicurean gourmet, the connoisseur who obviously relishes telling us about regional dishes and vintages who, as linguists would say, loves the signified (the thing itself) as much as the signifier (what it is called). For there is a delicate and sensuous poetic ring to boeuf aux herbes de Massiac (beef with herbs from the Massiac region), potee auvergnate (an Auvergne hot-pot) or poularde demi-deuil (literally, a fat hen in half-mourning). Indeed, Fenby successfully made my French mouth water on several occasions.
His culinary acumen is so assured that it provides him with a tool for assessing and differentiating characters - French President Jacques Chirac, for example, is 'a man who lived for the roar of the crowd and who washed down his favourite dish of calf's head with Mexican beer', while the more refined Edouard Balladur ate 'steamed sole'. Or again: 'This was a battle between two strands of politics, between straight-on, no-nonsense populism and genteel conservatism - calf's head versus caviar'.
More markedly in the opening chapters, Fenby compiles a lengthy catalogue of France's woes and shortcomings.
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By A Customer on 6 Jun. 1999
Format: Hardcover
Authoritative, highly readable, well informed and packed with thought provoking facts and statistics. An impressive and dispassionate account as any I have read on France, particularly so for a non native. A must for anyone wishing to settle in France, or have a greater understanding of the country and its recent history.
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Format: Hardcover
Anglo Saxons (as the French like to call both Americans and Britons) have long preferred the France of Peter Mayle to the complex society tackled by Fenby in this book. "A Year in Provence" was more revealing about the psychology of a certain kind of Englishman than about France; "France On the Brink" takes on the difficult task of trying to understand France on its own terms, and therein lies its value. Americans in particular, will find the realistic appraisal of of French merits and demerits refreshingly free of the usual cant to which they are treated by propagandists for the American way.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x96657c6c) out of 5 stars 18 reviews
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9665e804) out of 5 stars Worth reading, but gets tied up in a knot or two 22 Oct. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Fenby clearly loves France (don't we all?) and appreciates the way it combines the wonderful with the maddening, the rational with the irrational, the generous with the selfish. Whether he or the publishers are right to suggest that France is "on the brink" of some serious crisis is, however, another matter. Living in Germany and traveling frequently to France, I get the impression France is increasingly in better shape than its neighbor. Many French have a problem with globalization (Americanization?), but in lots of ways the country is much more modern and sprightly than its European neighbors. So the book rather overstates its central argument. Its strongest points are its detailed accounts of the political, financial and business scandals of the Mitterrand years - quite staggering, when you come to think of them. The book's weakness is that it drifts too much into a blow-by-blow account of recent high politics in Paris, most of which won't be of any lasting concern even to the French themselves. Earlier reviewers who accuse Fenby of having anti-this and anti-that axes to grind are being unfair - overall, he gets the balance right.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9665ec6c) out of 5 stars The best book on contemporary France 15 Feb. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Fenby's "France on the Brink" is the best overview in English of modern-day France, surpassing even Richard Bernstein's "Fragile Glory" (1990), which also is excellent. As a confirmed Francophile, I found that the book skimps a little on some of the qualities that make the country a great place to visit -- such as its food and wine, its efficient public transportation, its superb museums and historic preservation, the warmth of its people (outside Paris at least!), and the beauty and sheer diversity of its landscapes. On the other hand, the book provides a wealth of detail on some of the country's major ills, above all its increasing xenophobia, uncompetitive industries and corrupt, shoddy politics.
It is in the political arena that Fenby is really in his element, and he has hardly a kind word for any of the men and women who have run France since de Gaulle, most of whom he seems to have met face-to-face as a reporter. In Fenby's portrait, payoffs, favoritism, cronyism, sexual intrigue and even violence seem to be business as usual among France's political class, most of whom seem to be interested more in status and luxurious living than in making the country a better place. Fenby's key point is that it is the politicians rather than their usual scapegoats -- immigrants, foreign influences, or the uniting of Europe -- who deserve most of the blame for pushing the country to "the brink"; yet Fenby is hopeful that France will survive and continue to be both a cultural beacon and a significant player in world affairs.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9665ebe8) out of 5 stars A perceptive and extraordinary book 26 Sept. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As an American who speaks French and who has friends all around that wonderful country, I found this book to be perceptive and important. While it is true that one can easily catalog problems in any country, I think that the importance of France on the world stage demanded that this book be written.
Critical to Fenby's thinking is his idea that the leadership in France is more and more inbred and separated from the people. The system allows for immense concentrations of power without effective checks and balances. The resulting lack of "tranparence" in fiscal and political matters should really be quite appalling to the French population.
Unlike the previous reviewer, I find a sense of malaise in many of my friends and acquaintances there and a special sense of unhappiness among the unemployed and underemployed, especially among the young.
I do see France as being "on the brink" in the sense that it has fundamental decisions to make about how it will govern itself (increasing accountability versus perpetuation of "une classe politique"), how it will manage its economic system (creation of real jobs versus quaint solutions such as the 35 hour work week), and how it will truly integrate the large number of people who are on the outside looking in.
I would recommend this book to people who are interested in some of the problems and promises of contemporary France.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9665eb4c) out of 5 stars A fascinating book for all Francophiles 14 Oct. 1999
By David S. Rupp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an absorbing and often fascinating look at contemporary France. Confirmed Francophiles like myself, whether jilted lovers or fawning admirers, will find themselves nodding in agreement or mildly surprised by some of the facts and incidents portrayed here. For most of the first half I found it near impossible to put the book down. The second half was certainly interesting and informative but dragged somwhat,, telling me a little more than I wanted to know about all the machinations of the political personalities of the last 30 years. Nonetheless, the point was well made: The same French political personalies keep popping up through the decades like one of those children's pop-up toys where you press one of half dozen buttons for a different character. France needs some new blood, with new ideas without destroying the essential character of France. My dog-eared volume was marked for some passages I found worth saving or remembering for various reasons. On p. 96, a quote from Francois Mauriac: "France has an unchanging landscape where I can still believe I am an adolescent." On p. 109, a tell-tale fact to illustrate another facet: " The Creuse departement has lost one half its population since 1902, 40% since l960." Or page 215: " there is a plaque at the Gare Austerlitz, the only memorial to the 11,000 jews deported from that Station." Further, on the same page, a reminder that Le Pen uses the old right wing code word "cosmopolitains" to refer to the jews in France. My favorite is a quote from Anthony Lane on P. 262. "The English fondness for France is normally sort of a neutron love: take away the people and leave the buildings standing." Having lived in Marseilles a couple of years I enjoyed reading a section about that great old city. There was an intriguing reference to Varian Fry, the "American Scarlet Pimpernel" in Marseille at the beginning of WWII. ( A book or screenplay should be written about this forgotten hero, a la Schindler's List.) Fenby is at home writing about many of the foolish political/economic policies of France; his chapters on business and labor are compelling and depressing. To get a flavor, buy the book and read a paragraph on p. 432 imagining Bill Gates in France.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9665eeb8) out of 5 stars a reader writes 24 Dec. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
ohndaly@x-stream.co.uk from London, UK , 6 June, 1999 , 5 out of 5 stars Absolutely superb Authoritative, highly readable, well informed and packed with thought provoking facts and statistics. An impressive and dispassionate account as any I have read on France, particularly so for a non native. A must for anyone wishing to settle in France, or have a greater understanding of the country and its recent history.
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