The Discovery of France
by Graham Robb
This is a fascinating eye-opener to the history of a country, which this book made me realise I knew very little about - despite being separated from my birthplace only by the narrow barrier of the English Channel.
For instance, I wasn't previously aware that 300 years ago, when England had a well-established monarchy, a parliament and a reasonable tradition of law and order, rural France was no more than a collection of tribes and communities, living in small enclaves, and speaking their own language. Paris, of course, was the exception.
Even the French Revolution didn't really unite the country. People in France did not even consider themselves French until relatively recently.
Graham Robb's intense study of this beautiful country began on the seat of a bicycle, which he thought appropriate as it was the humble bike which first opened up France to travellers, and evidently continues today.
The result is a book which is both extraordinarily informative and delightfully entertaining. It's the perfect preparation for a visit to France.