By Alistair Horne

La Belle France is a sweeping, grand narrative written with all of the verve, erudition and vividness which are the hallmarks of the acclaimed British historian Alistair Horne. It recounts the highly soaking up tale of the rustic that has contributed to the realm loads expertise, sort and political innovation.

Beginning with Julius Caesar’s department of Gaul into 3 elements, Horne leads us—in quickly, illuminating vignettes—through the a long time: from Charlemagne, Philippe-Auguste and the solar King, Louis XIV, to Cardinal Richelieu and Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac. He indicates us a rustic that has suffered and survived possible unending battle: the Hundred Years’ battle, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian battle, international Wars I and II and colonial battles in Indochina and Algeria. He provides us luminous pictures of the nation’s nice leaders, yet he's as thorough and compelling in his discussions of the lives of the peasants, the haute bourgeoisie, the sansculottes of the Revolution and the good philosophers and writers, artists and composers—Montaigne, Voltaire, Balzac, Renoir, Bizet, Monet, Proust, Satie and Sartre, between them—who have assisted in shaping Western notion and culture.

This is a captivating, fantastically illustrated and accomplished but concise background of France.

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Sample text

The Emperor's personal valet Marchand was also missing, thanks to an accident on the choked road which had tipped his carriage over. It would take hours to repair it; arriving at Le Caillou at around gpm, he would find the Emperor already in bed. The other valets and servants were hurrying about their individual tasks. The Emperor's room was of medium size, the ceiling supported by two beams; the walls were whitewashed, the floor tiled, and the only thing which showed a more than utilitarian elegance was the carved wooden fireplace.

Every morning he provided the Grand Marshal with a report on the state of the palaces, lodgings and services. He would precede the Emperor duringjourneys, preparing the lodgings and also cleaning them up after the entourage had left. As a bachelor Baillon had an apartment in the Tuileries, only moving after his marriage on 22 February 1808, shortly before he was commissioned second-lieutenant in the Elite Gendarmes and left for Spain. Indeed, with the exception of the 1813 campaign, which he missed due to extreme exhaustion after the retreat from Russia, Baillon followed the Emperor on all his campaigns from 18 September 1806 until Waterloo in June 1815.

Le Caillou farmhouse today. Napoleon's last headquarters, on the main Brussels/Charleroi road just south of the battlefield of Waterloo, is now a museum. A plaque commemorates by name those members of the Emperor's staff who stayed there on 17/18 June 1815. 30pm the Emperor rode north with his staff and the duty squadrons along the main road, until he reached the minor crossroads and cluster of buildings at La Belle Alliance, about two miles beyond Le Caillou. From this slight rise he could dimly see Allied troops halted on Mont Saint Jean, the next gentle ridge to the north, beyond which another couple of miles took the road through Waterloo village and under the dark eaves of the Forest of Soignes.

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