Friday, March 1, 2024

#Bookreview of A Brief History of France by Dominic Haynes

A Brief History of France: Empires, Kings, and Revolutions

By: Dominic Haynes
Publisher: Dominic Haynes History
Publication Date: February 8, 2024
ISBN: 978-1915710543
Reviewed by: Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr.
Review Date: February 28, 2024
It is hard not to be impressed by the amount of information Dominic Haynes has accrued for his newest work, A Brief History of France: Empires, Kings, and Revolutions. He certainly has done his research. Spanning from 3400 BCE to 2023 CE, Haynes presents a sweeping narrative filled with peace and war, love and hate, life and death, and everything else that may be generally associated with the tumultuous history of a forever changing country. With that said, he also inadvertently exposes, through his encyclopedic prose, how imperative it is that history and context do not get lost; that what has happened in the past leads all of us to where we are now and where we are going to be in the future. This is an age of misinformation, where history and other areas of the humanities are being disregarded and eradicated from our schools’ curriculums; and Haynes, with this text about just one country, is trying to keep the past alive, recognizing that even if in our silos, we are all still very much connected.
Haynes starts his work with Pre-Roman Gaul and continues on to speak about the Romanization of Gaul; the Merovingians and Carolingians; the rise of the House of Capet; the Renaissance; the Black Death; The Age of Absolutism; The French Revolution; the Belle Epoque; and, France after World War II (among other significant moments in French history). Haynes speaks about all of these periods of time in the span of less than two hundred pages, which is no easy feat; however, he is largely successful in maintaining flow and balance for a good portion of the work. Nearer to the end of A Brief History of France, when speaking about France during the 20th and 21st centuries, Haynes does start to condense a bit more, and in doing so, he skims through several decades, more specifically between the Korean and Vietnam wars, but he does seem to maintain pacing enough for those last two chapters to be educational and comprehensive.
If there is one issue to be brought up about Haynes’s text, it is that the audience is not made aware of how he selected the events/individuals covered in A Brief History of France. Haynes states in his introduction that “the history of France is a crossroads of all different cultures that have walked the land,” and “France’s story reaches beyond a chronological account of events, highlighting the best and worst of what humanity has to offer.” This much is true, but one can say this about any country. All countries are a “mosaic of triumphs and tribulations, art and upheaval, and enlightenment and resistance [that form a] nation’s unique identity.” Rather than providing platitudes and summary in his introduction, it would have benefited readers to learn more about Haynes’s process, his sources, and his decision-making as to why go in one direction rather than another. He does claim that he is trying to construct a “light-speed odyssey through time,” which is meant to provide a constructed narrative filled with protagonists, antagonists, plot twists, and tragedy; however, ultimately, stories are inherent in the facts, and the facts rule over the storytelling in this particular instance.
That is not to say, though, that Haynes is not a diligent researcher and precise writer. In reading through his canon of work, Haynes has written short histories about Italy, Ancient Greece, Ukraine, and Canada (among other countries and philosophies), so he knows how to produce reliable and credible information for his readers. And, his writing style, which is rich with actualities and trivia, can resonate with a mass audience that now gingerly skims through documents rather than pays close attention to them. In essence, Haynes, after writing multiple short histories, understands his audience and what it is that they are looking for as it pertains to accruing basic knowledge about a very complex country. That is a skill, and Haynes has that skill; thus, A Brief of History of France achieves what it sets out to be: a piece of developed research to help those who need to know more about French history, culture, politics, understanding of religion, art, and citizenship.
Quill says: A Brief History of France is a bit unbalanced, but an informative and educational narrative about France from antiquity to today.

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