Feb 032010

Here is something to read as soon as our university library gets it, or I can snag a cheap used copy. 19th century France is definitely a missing period in my historical understanding. It’s not that my college history classes didn’t cover it, or that I haven’t read accounts of, say, the Paris Commune. But this might help me make better sense of it:

For the Soul of France, by Frederick Brown. Knopf, 304 pages, $28.95

Here is some of what Michael Gurfinkiel, the WSJ reviewer, said:

Mr. Brown does not omit a single episode in this narrative, nor does he stint on the vignettes and human angles that bring the story to life. He is the author of noted biographies of Émile Zola and Gustave Flaubert, and “For the Soul of France” clearly benefits from his long immersion in the lives and works of these two great novelists, who flourished during the era he describes. Mr. Brown’s storytelling is vivacious and fluid, but he also keeps a firm hand on his chronicle, bringing order and perspective to these often chaotic times. …

Then again, Mr. Brown simplifies his task by operating with a single organizing principle: Most of the turmoil in France during this period stemmed from battles over the restoration of the Catholic Church as France’s main societal institution….