Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Non-Fiction November - Week 3

Week 3: (Nov. 12 to 16) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Julie @ JulzReads): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).


This year I've been reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo one chapter at a time with Nick and his band of merry followers. The whole chapter a day thing hasn't always gone to plan - Les Mis in fits and starts would be a better description of my reading year!

I find myself constantly fascinated by this period of history - the various stages of the French Revolution, the wars with England and Spain, the art and writers from this time. I was one of the few readalong participants who enjoyed Hugo's two week diversion back in time to 'witness' Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo!

In the past I've read two of the four Max Gallo Napoleon books (but ran out of steam).


I have The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Miserables by David Bellos by my bed to start very soon (I've waited until this close to the end in case there were any spoilers in it, which I believe there are!) so I'm hoping it will flesh out some of the history for me.

But I still get the Second Empire, Second Republic and Third Republic stuff all mixed up. Reading my way through Zola is helping with this, but I'd like to know more.

This is where I ask for your help.

Have you read any really good (non-fiction or fiction) about the French Revolution through to the Third Republic era?

Or perhaps something more general that brings that time (the mid 1700's through to the late 1800's) in Europe to light?

Help me become a French Revolution/Republic expert in the future.

2017 Be the Expert - Man's inhumanity to man/Holocaust literature.

20 comments:

  1. I can recommend:
    The Chouans is an 1829 novel by French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac.
    It takes place during the 1799 post-war uprising in Fougères. The novel combines military history with a love story between the aristocratic Marie de Verneuil and the Chouan royalist Alphonse de Montauran. The novel uses its truthful historical backdrop to tell a fictional story of people who sculpted the past. For more info see my review dd. May 24, 2017!

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    1. I've only read one Balzac so far - Eugenie Grandet - book 30 in La Comedie Humaine, but hope to read many more as time goes by. I doubt I will ever read all 91 books in the series, so it's great to get some recommendations for which ones to try next :-)

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  2. A while back I read John Bierman's Napoleon III and his Carnival Empire and thought it was pretty good. As you might guess :) from the title, he hates Napoleon III. Hugo shows up in a couple of places in it.

    And I'll second the recommendation of The Chouans. Other Balzac novels, too.

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    1. The Bierman sounds like a fun way to get some history details - thanks.

      What's your favourite Balzac?

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    2. Yes, well, of those 91, I've read maybe four? But I liked The Chouans and Pere Goriot, though as I remember Pere Goriot is pretty grim. I haven't read any of the other famous ones, like Cousin Bette or Lost Illusions or Eugenie Grandet, for that matter.

      Javier Marias likes Colonel Chabert so I read that at one point, but it was just OK, I thought.

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  3. Can I just recommend this visual record of the French Republics via their image of Marianne on this blog? It certainly helps you keep them apart:
    https://curiousrambler.com/2015/03/07/the-changing-face-of-the-french-republic/
    I personally am very interested in the Paris Commune of 1971, and there are a couple of books about that: Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune by John Merriman, and Donny Gluckstein also has a good book about it. For fiction inspired by the Commune, although actually talking about the earlier, more famous revolution, try Victor Hugo's last novel Ninety-Three.

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    1. Thanks for the link about about the changing face of Marianne - it helped to get the timeline better sorted in my head!

      I have Ninety-Three somewhere in my TBR pile and I will look out for the Paris Commune books - an era I know nothing about at all.

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  4. I've also enjoyed Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune, which covers the Paris Commune around the start of the Third Republic, and Napoleon's Egypt, which talks about the failed French campaign to invade Egypt. You'd likely get even more out of Napoleon's Egypt than I did, since you've read books about Napoleon already.

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    1. Thanks Michael - your mention of the Egypt campaign reminded me that I had a book tucked away on my TBR pile about Napoleon's plans to invade Australia - Napoleon's Australia: The Incredible Story of Bonaparte's Secret Plan to Invade Australia by Terry Smyth.

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  5. While I have not ready any books on these fascinating topics to give recommendations, I do know that the website fivebooks.com has recommendations from experts in various fields. I just looked and they have two lists of the best books on the French Revolution. I'd start there! Good luck!

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    1. Thanks Heather - haven't used that site before - lots of interesting comments and food for thought.

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  6. I love that period of history as well.

    Now this may not be your cup of tea but the biography of the Marquis de Sade by Maurice Lever was fascinating. I read it pre-blogging days but it has really stuck in my mind.

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  7. A historical fiction book I read comes to mind. Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran covers her time pre and post Revolution. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8689913-madame-tussaud

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  8. That's a fascinating time period. I don't have a non-fiction volume to recommend, but if you were looking for a fun, fictional counterpart, I recommend the commercial thriller by Katherine Neville, The Eight (a great puzzle-novel-airport-read: entertaining with a Revolutionary backdrop)!

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  9. There's Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke. I've not read it myself - it's on my TBR :)

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  10. I haven't read any books from this time frame or topic - however an interesting one to settle on and discuss!

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  11. Bellos's book is absolutely amazing!!
    a fantastic histfic on the French Revolution is https://wordsandpeace.com/2011/03/01/madame-tussaud-a-novel-of-the-french-revolution/ - oops, looks like Heather also mentioned it above me in a comment

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  12. I haven't read anything about this topic so I can't really help, but I do love the idea of this pairing of fiction and nonfiction :)

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  13. I've not read anything specifically about Napoleon, but I did really love The Black Count, a book about Alexander Dumas' father and his inspiration for the Count of Monte Cristo, set in this time period. I also recently added The Invisible Emperor, about Napoleon, to my to-read list and it looks like it's getting good reviews :)

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  14. I recommend a biography that my reading group read last year - you can find a review on my blog - Caroline Moorehead's Dancing to the precipice: Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution. I had a great interest in the French Revolution, once upon a time, and this book provided a fascinating refresher for me. What a life, what a time.

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