France is the most-visited country in the world. It attracts millions of tourists, most of whom come in search of beautiful architecture, good food, and fine art. But appearances can be deceptive. France is not only a place of culture and glamour; it also carries the bitter memories of violence, division and broken promises. 

In this arresting book, Emile Chabal, a leading specialist of contemporary France, tells the story of a paradoxical country. From the calamitous defeat by Hitler's armies in 1940 to the spectacular gilets jaunes protests, he explores the contradictions that have shaped French history over the last eighty years. The picture that emerges is one of a nation struggling to reconcile its core political values with the realities of a diverse society.
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  • December 2020
  • 224 pages
  • 120 x 176 mm / 5 x 7 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $59.95
  • 9781509530014
  • Paperback $14.95
  • 9781509530021
  • Open eBook $12.00
  • 9781509530045
Table of Contents
Introduction: A paradoxical nation
1. Defeat and resistance
2. Colonialism and anti-colonialism
3. Grandeur and decline
4. Left and right
5. The Republic and its discontents
6. Local citizens in a global state
Conclusion: An uncertain future
Further reading
About the Author
Emile Chabal is a Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh. He is one of the foremost experts on twentieth-century French political and intellectual history. He has published widely on topics such as French republicanism, secularism, the legacies of empire, identity politics and Franco-British relations, including a groundbreaking study of French politics entitled A Divided Republic: nation, state and citizenship in contemporary France.
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“A refreshing and tightly written introduction to France’s recent history.”
Arthur Asseraf, University of Cambridge

“In this highly polished introduction to contemporary France, Chabal combines a keen eye for detail with an admirable capacity for vivid narration and analytical generalisation. His focus on France’s modern paradoxes offers a stimulating and enjoyable point of entry into the ongoing fractures of its contemporary social and political life.”
Sudhir Hazareesingh, Oxford University

“This superb analysis of how France’s current struggles--over diversity, state authority, the EU, and much else--emerged from its history since 1940 will enthrall newcomers to the subject and experts alike. A major achievement.”
Herrick Chapman, New York University

“Superb… upon finishing Chabal’s France one comes away feeling that few authors could have compressed more pertinent discussion into so few pages. It is a truly remarkable book.”
Art Goldhammer, Tocqueville 21

“Emile Chabal's text has the great benefit of clarifying and offering up new perspectives on familiar issues... [his] reading of some of the questions posed to and by the French people is particularly stimulating in the way that it highlights the gap between a republican language that saturates the public sphere, and the political and social dynamics that have repeatedly forced it to adapt.”
Emmanuel Jousse, Tocqueville 21

“The reader would be hard pressed to find a better introduction and guide to contemporary France.”
Mark Thompson, History: Review of New Books

“The reader will finish this synthetic, concise, and theoretically rich book armed with a narrative of French history since 1940, with an excellent list for further reading, with a snapshot of current debates in French studies and, perhaps most important, with a method to explore and explain events in France’s past, present, and future.”
Evan Spritzer, Modern & Contemporary France

“[D]eceptively easy to read and it makes difficult concepts accessible.”
Minayo Nasiali, Modern & Contemporary France

“[A] remarkable feat…. For those readers with little or no knowledge of modern and contemporary France, the book will provide an earnest and critical overview; for more knowledgeable readers there is still much to be gained from examining the multiple contradictions inherent in French society.”
David Lees, Modern & Contemporary France

“manages the rare feat of combining sparkling prose with in-depth and lucid analysis of French history in the eighty years since the fall of France stunned the world…”
Alice L. Conklin, H-France Review

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