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The French Bookshelf

Every semester, we suggest a book to read during your spare time.

This semester, we recommend:

Métronome: l'histoire de France au rythme du métro parisien

by Lóránt Deutsch. Paris: Michel Lafon, 2009.


When in the Parisian métro, many a traveler hold a book in their hands. The next time you find yourself in the métro, this is the book you will want to be holding. Lóránt Deutsch's book invites us to get off the train at various stops (Cité, Place d'Italie, Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Saint-Martin, Louvre-Rivoli, Saint-Michel Notre-Dame...) and explore not just those wonderful Parisian neighborhoods but also their history--sometimes their secret history, for who would have guessed that the ruins of Paris's first cathedral lie under the parking lot of a building in the 5th arrondissement?

Lászlo Matekovics, known in France as Lóránt (or "Lorànt") Deutsch, is--you would have never guessed it--an actor. Born to a Hungarian father and a French mother, Lóránt studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and Hungarian at the INALCO. It was actually his sister who signed him up to audition at the Théâtre Mouffetard in Paris. Soon after, Lóránt became a very sought-after theater and cinema actor. Métronome: l'histoire de France au rythme du métro parisien is Lóránt Deutsch's very first publication.

Métronome will soon be available at the Baylor Library.

The Return of Martin Guerre

by Natalie Zemon Davis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Return of Martin Guerre

If you think identity theft is a 21st-century phenomenon, think again. In 16th-century France, Martin Guerre decides to leave his young wife Bertrande in the small French village of Artigat. Years later, a man who pretends to be Martin comes back home. At first, his wife and extended family welcome the prodigal husband into their midst. After all, he does seem to remember every single detail about "his" youth, "his" wife, and everyone else. However, townspeople grow increasingly suspicious of this potential impostor. Some even think that he looks like Arnaud du Tilh, a peasant who was also known as Pansette. But what if the real Martin Guerre were to come back?... Obviously, you will have to read the book in order to find out.

Natalie Zemon Davis (born in 1928) is an important contemporary historian of the early modern period, currently teaching at the University of Toronto. Her publications include Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (1975), The Return of Martin Guerre (1984), Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (1987), and Trickster Travels (2006).

The Return of Martin Guerre is available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.

Le pouvoir intellectuel en France

by Régis Debray. Paris: Gallimard, 1986.


Like the previous book that we recommended, this volume contains an analysis of the role of intellectuals in French society from the late 19th to the end of the 20th century. In Debray's opinion, there were three main ages of intellectuals in French history: the age of university professors (1880-1930), the age of publishers (1920-1960), and the age of media (1968-?).

Régis Debray (born 1940) is a French intellectual, journalist, and professor. He studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure under Louis Althusser and became an agrégé de philosophie in 1965. He authored a significant number of books and he is also the founder of "mediology"--a discipline which studies the transmission of cultural meaning though images and language.

Le pouvoir intellectuel en France will soon be available at the Baylor Library.

Les Intellectuels en France, de l'affaire Dreyfus à nos jours

by Pascal Ory and Jean-François Sirinelli. Paris: A. Colin, 1986.

Ory et Sirinelli

This book is a remarkable analysis of the role of intellectuals in French public life from the late 19th to the end of the 20th century. Readers will find in it not only detailed analyses of, for instance, the Dreyfus affair and Sartre's political involvement, but also interesting reflections on the undercurrents that affected the intellectual life of France over the last century and a half.

Pascal Ory (born 1948) is a French historian specialized in cultural and political history. He is a professor at the Université de Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Jean-François Sirinelli (born 1949) is also a specialist of French intellectual history. He teaches at the Institut d’études politiques in Paris and is a director of the Centre d’histoire de Sciences Po.

Les Intellectuels en France is available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.

Noël, Les plus beaux textes de la langue française

Ed. by Michel Tournier. Paris: Archipel, 2000.

Livre Noel

This anthology contains an excellent selection of Christmas-themed texts ranging from Rutebeuf, Villon, and Ronsard to Rimbaud, Maupassant, and Proust.

Michel Tournier's works have won major awards such as the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française in 1967 for Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique and the Prix Goncourt for Le Roi des aulnes in 1970. His autobiography has been translated and published as The Wind Spirit (Beacon Press, 1988).

Noël, les plus beaux textes de la langue française will soon be available at the Baylor Library.

Dieu et le pouvoir: théologie et politique en Occident

by Jean-Claude Eslin. Paris: Seuil, 1999.

Jean-Claude Eslin

Jean-Claude Eslin's Dieu et le pouvoir is a highly commendable analysis of the complex relationship between theology and politics in the West. According to L'Express, "[l]e principal mérite de l'essai de Jean-Claude Eslin, un parcours au coeur de la théologie politique occidentale, est sans doute d'envisager sereinement la relation de dépendance qui unit depuis toujours la politique et la religion. Ici, ni vindicte laïcarde ni apologétique cléricale."

Eslin argues that there has always been a mutual influence between theology and political philosophy. For instance, Saint Augustin believed, like Cicero, that the foundation of law was to be found in nature and not in a social contract. Eslin also contends that modern societies should attempt to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of clerical and secular fundamentalism. Instead, they should strive to find a middle ground acceptable to the vast majority of people.

Jean-Claude Eslin is a professor at the Ecole Européenne des Affaires, at SUPELEC and at the Centre Sèvres. His most important publications include Hannah Arendt: L'obligée du monde (1996) and Saint Augustin: L'Homme occidental (2002).

Dieu et le pouvoir will soon be available at the Baylor Library.

Past recommendations:

The Atlantic

by Pierre Butel. New York: Routledge, 1999.


From antiquity to modern times, the Atlantic has been the subject of myths and legends, as well as a site marked by commerce, exploration, migration, and war. The Atlantic offers a global history of the ocean encompassing the exploits of adventurers, Vikings, explorers such as Christopher Columbus, emigrants, fishermen, and modern traders. The book also highlights the importance of the growth of ports such as New York and Liverpool and the battles of the Atlantic in the world wars of the twentieth century.

Paul Butel examines the legends of the ocean, beginning with the Phoenicians and Carthaginians navigating beyond the Pillars of Hercules, and details the exploitation and power struggles of the Atlantic through the centuries. The book surveys the important events in the Atlantic's rich history and comprehensively analyzes the changing fortunes of sea-going nations, including Britain, the United States and Germany.

Paul Butel is Professor of Modern History and Director of the Centre for the History of Atlantic Spaces at the Universite Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux 3. His publications include The History of Tea (1989), The French Economy in the Eighteenth Century (1993), and Opium: History of a Fascination (1995).

(Editor's presentation)

The Atlantic will soon be available at the Baylor Library.

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

by Stéphane Courtois et al. Ed. and trad. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Black Book of Communism

The world recently celebrated 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that is why we thought that recommending Stéphane Courtois's book is truly appropriate in commemoration of this event.

"Communism did kill, Courtois and his fellow historians demonstrate, with ruthless efficiency: 25 million in Russia during the Bolshevik and Stalinist eras, perhaps 65 million in China under the eyes of Mao Zedong, 2 million in Cambodia, millions more Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America--an astonishingly high toll of victims. This freely expressed penchant for homicide, Courtois maintains, was no accident, but an integral trait of a philosophy, and a practical politics, that promised to erase class distinctions by erasing classes and the living humans that populated them. Courtois and his contributors document Communism's crimes in numbing detail, moving from country to country, revolution to revolution. The figures they offer will likely provoke argument, if not among cliometricians then among the ideologically inclined. So, too, will Courtois's suggestion that those who hold Lenin, Trotsky, and Ho Chi Minh in anything other than contempt are dupes, witting or not, of a murderous school of thought--one that, while in retreat around the world, still has many adherents. A thought-provoking work of history and social criticism, The Black Book of Communism fully merits the broadest possible readership and discussion." --Gregory McNamee

The Black Book of Communism is available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.

Tristes tropiques

by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Paris: Plon, 1955.

Tristes Tropiques-Levi-Strauss

The French intellectual Claude Lévi-Strauss died recently (October 30, 2009) at age 100. It is therefore only natural to dedicate this post of the French Bookshelf to the father of modern anthropology.

In his youth, Lévi-Strauss studied law and philosophy at the Sorbonne. In 1935, he accepted a position as visiting professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo. Lévi-Strauss lived in Brazil from 1935 to 1939--formative years during which he undertook ethnographic fieldwork, and which greatly influenced his anthropological studies. He was later drafted into the French army, but after the German occupation, Lévi-Strauss fled to New York where he taught at the New School for Social Research. In 1948, he returned to France, and in 1959, he became the chair of Social Anthropology at the Collège de France. Lévi-Strauss was elected a member of the Académie Française in 1973.

Tristes Tropiques, a memoir published in 1955, is the book that made Lévi-Strauss famous in France and worldwide. This work documents Lévi-Strauss's travels and anthropological work, focusing primarily on Brazil. Although a travelogue, the book is infused with philosophical reflections and ideas linking many academic disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, geology, music, history, and literature.

Tristes tropiques is available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.


by Jean Baudrillard. Ed. and trans. Chris Turner. NY: Verso, 1989.


The main purpose of the French Bookshelf is to recommend French books or books about France--good books, most of the time. But what about curious, controversial, or utterly bad books? Don't they have their purpose too, after all? If you are like us, you will enjoy such books once in a while because they make you think. Baudrillard's America is one of them.

The New Statesman and Society calls Baudrillard's work a "collection of wild, often hilarious postcards from his trip to America [which] contains some of the year's most original and beautiful writing." Rolling Stone argues that although it is "occasionally provocative and almost always infuriating," America is definitely "filled with perceptive, almost poetic observations." Finally, the New York Times Book Review notes: "A mixture of crazy notions and dead-on insights, America is a valuable (and voluble) picture of what Mr. Baudrillard calls 'the only remaining primitive society' -- ours."

America is available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.

Interpreting the French Revolution

by François Furet. Ed. and trans. Elborg Forster. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981


The French Revolution is an historical event unlike any other. It is more than just a topic of intellectual interest: it has become part of a moral and political heritage. But after two centuries, this central event in French history has usually been thought of in much the same terms as it was by its contemporaries. There have been many accounts of the French Revolution, and though their opinions differ, they have often been commemorative or anniversary interpretations of the original event.

In this book, François Furet analyzes how an event like the French Revolution can be conceptualized, and identifies the radically new changes the Revolution produced, as well as the continuity it provided, albeit under the appearance of change. Furthermore, Furet challenges the popular Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution and reshapes French thinking about subsequent events.

François Furet (1927–97) was one of France’s most respected historians. His books include The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century and Revolutionary France, 1770–1880.

(Adapted from Amazon)

Interpreting the French Revolution is available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.

The Opium of the Intellectuals

by Raymond Aron. Ed. and trans. Terence Kilmartin. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977

Raymond Aron's 1955 masterpiece The Opium of the Intellectuals is one of the great works of twentieth-century political reflection. Aron shows how noble ideas can slide into the tyranny of "secular religion" and emphasizes how political thought has the profound responsibility of telling the truth about social and political reality -- in all its mundane imperfections and tragic complexities.

Aron explodes the three "myths" of radical thought: Communism, the Revolution, and the Proletariat. Each of these ideas, Aron shows, are ideological, mystifying rather than illuminating. He also provides a fascinating sociology of intellectual life and a powerful critique of historical determinism in the classically restrained prose for which he is justly famous. The book will be of interest to all intellectuals, as well as students of French, political theory, history, and sociology.

(Adapted from Amazon)

The Opium of the Intellectuals is available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.

Past Imperfect

French Intellectuals, 1944-1956

by Tony Judt. Berkeley/Los Angeles: U of California Press, 1994


Swept up in the vortex of communism, French postwar intellectuals developed a blind spot to Stalinist tyranny. Albert Camus, who had been an authentic moral voice of the Resistance, pretended not to know about the crimes and terrors of the Soviet Union. Jean-Paul Sartre perverted logic to make an apologia for the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Simone de Beauvoir called for social change to be brought about in a single convulsion, or else not at all. Foolish French thinkers, suffering "self-imposed moral anesthesia," defended the credibility of the show trials in Stalinized Eastern Europe.

In a devastating study, Judt, a professor of European Studies at New York University, argues that the belief system of postwar intellectuals, propped up by faith in communism, reflected fatal weaknesses in French culture such as the fragility of the liberal tradition and the penchant for grand theory. He also strips away the postwar myth that the small, fighting French Resistance was assisted by the mass of the nation.

(From Publishers Weekly)

Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 is available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.


by J.M.G. Le Clézio. Paris: Gallimard, 1986

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Le Clézio was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He has been writing since age seven; after majoring in French literature, he became well-known at age 23 with the publication of his first novel, Le Procès-Verbal (The Interrogation), which was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt and for which he was awarded the Prix Renaudot in 1963.

Since then he has published about 30 books, including short stories, novels, essays, two translations on the subject of Native American mythology, countless prefaces and reviews as well as a few contributions to collective publications. In addition, he is the author of several children's books.

From 1963 to 1975, Le Clézio explored themes like language and writing and devoted himself to formal experimentation in the wake of such contemporaries as Georges Perec or Michel Butor. In the late 1970s Le Clézio's style underwent a drastic change; he abandoned experimentation, and the mood of his novels became less tormented as he broached themes like childhood, adolescence, and traveling, which attracted a broader, more popular audience. Désert belongs to this second period and it is one of Le Clézio's bestsellers.

(Adapted from Amazon)

Désert will soon available at the Baylor Library. Click here for the persistent URL.


by Jean-François Revel. Ed. and trans. Diarmid Cammell. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003

JFRevel (w x h, 0 KB)

This book, a bestseller in France, seeks to explain the root cause of the world's and particularly Europe's obsession with hating America. Jean-François Revel does not pretend that America is perfect. But he argues that the daily denunciations exceed the bounds of reasonable criticism. Furthermore, Revel says, European critics are quick to point fingers when they should be looking in the mirror. He attributes such inconsistencies to Europeans' desperate desire to "project our faults onto America so as to absolve ourselves."

Revel further finds fault with the anti-globalization movement. Though the movement claims to oppose inequality and poverty in underdeveloped countries, its true anathema is liberal capitalism, whose chief representative is the United States. The barrage of attacks will make it impossible for the United States to confer with European officials or take any criticism seriously. It is in Europe's interest, Revel says, to put aside its envy and consider a more constructive relationship with the United States.

Revel writes with a style at once informative and incisive. He possesses a sarcastic wit that is undoubtedly as irritating to his critics as it is endearing to his supporters.

(Adapted from Publishers Weekly)

Anti-Americanism is now available at the Baylor Library. Call number: E840 .R4313 2003.

French Philosophy of the Sixties

An Essay on Anti-Humanism

by Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut. Ed. and trans. Mary H. Cattani. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990

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First published in France in 1985, Ferry and Renaut's book offers a wide-ranging and controversial critique of several leading figures in recent French philosophy. Beginning with a discussion of the French intellectual scene in the sixties, the authors sketch the characteristic features of 1960s philosophy and the links between this philosophy and the May 1968 student uprising. In successive chapters, they go on to examine Foucault's Nietzscheanism, Derrida's Heideggerianism, Bourdieu's Marxism, and Lacan's Freudianism, focusing in each case on these thinkers' respective critiques of the subject and humanism.

Focusing closely on selected texts, the authors' clear exegeses make a persuasive case against these current French "anti-humanists" that will be helpful and appealing to readers critical of contemporary French theory and challenging to defenders of recent French thought. (...) [T]his is an important work that deserves as wide a reading in the US as it has received in France. It will interest faculty and graduate students of philosophy and of French and comparative literature, and it will be accessible to undergraduates familiar with the literature.

(A. D. Schrift, Grinnell College-adapted)

French Philosophy of the Sixties is available at the Baylor Library. Call number: B2421.F4713 1990

French Theory

(How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States)

by François Cusset. Ed. and trans. Jeff Fort. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 2008

FrenchTheory (80 x 100, 0 KB)

During the last three decades of the twentieth century, a disparate group of French thinkers achieved an improbable level of influence and fame in the United States. Compared by at least one journalist to the British rock ‘n’ roll invasion, the arrival of works by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari on American shores in the late 1970s and 1980s caused a sensation.

French Theory is the first comprehensive account of the American fortunes of these unlikely philosophical celebrities. François Cusset looks at why America proved to be such fertile ground for French theory, how such demanding writings could become so widely influential, and the peculiarly American readings of these works. Reveling in the gossipy history, Cusset also provides a lively exploration of the many provocative critical practices inspired by French thinkers, showing, finally, how French theory has become inextricably bound with American life.

(Adapted from the editor's presentation)

French Theory is available at the Baylor Library. Call number: B2421.C7913 2008 My personal thanks to Prof. Marie Level (MFL French) who recommended this book.

Tous les matins du monde

(All the World's Mornings)

by Pascal Quignard. Paris: Gallimard, 1993

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Written by Pascal Quignard in 1991, All the World's Mornings was almost immediately adapted for the screen. The movie bears the same title as the novel, and it is the result of a collaboration between Quignard, director Alain Corneau, and the musician Jordi Savall.

Corneau had wanted to do a movie on music and the 17th century. He met Quignard, who had already written about the viol, and suggested that they do the story of Marin Marais (1656-1728), one of the best viol players and composers of the time, and his teacher Sainte Colombe. Quignard had discovered the music of Sainte Colombe through a recording made by Jordi Savall in 1976. Quignard wrote the book, Corneau adapted it and worked with Quignard and Savall to make the movie.


The novel will soon be available at the Baylor Library—click here for the persistent URL. Click here to see an excerpt from the movie.

Grammaire des civilisations

(A History of Civilizations)

by Fernand Braudel. Paris: Flammarion, 1993

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A leader of the Annales school, which reacted against the prominence of politics and personalities in historiography, Braudel wrote based on la longue durée, emphasizing the material basis of daily life—the routine workings of commerce as it changes over the long term. This outlook has gradually permeated the profession, and, as so often happens when a good idea proves unstoppable, its proponent takes a turn at textbook writing.

This is the late Braudel's 1962 lesson for French university students on the origin of European, Islamic, Indian, Asian, and New World civilizations. As a text it wasn't widely adopted, perhaps because France was then in a political uproar, pitting its colonialists—heirs to the civilizing mission of the nineteenth century—against decolonizers. And the book bears that sign of its time: The colonial motif pops up everywhere, presented as a timeless feature of ways of life in collision. So it was at the Battle of Tours in 732, which stopped the Muslim juggernaut; and so it is now in the anti-Western sentiments in the Arab world. Whether the conflict split religion and religion, town and country, or liberty and right, the colonial view benefits from Braudel's phenomenal depth of knowledge and synthesizing agility (...).

(From Booklist)

Grammaire des civilisations is available at the Baylor Library. Call number: CB78.B73 1993.

The Discovery of France

A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War

by Graham Robb. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007

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While Gustave Eiffel was changing the skyline of Paris, large parts of France were still terra incognita. Even in the age of railways and newspapers, France was a land of ancient tribal divisions, prehistoric communication networks, and pre-Christian beliefs. French itself was a minority language.

Graham Robb describes that unknown world in arresting narrative detail. He recounts the epic journeys of mapmakers, scientists, soldiers, administrators, and intrepid tourists, of itinerant workers, pilgrims, and herdsmen with their millions of migratory domestic animals. We learn how France was explored, charted, and colonized, and how the imperial influence of Paris was gradually extended throughout a kingdom of isolated towns and villages.

The Discovery of France explains how the modern nation came to be and how poorly understood that nation still is today. Above all, it shows how much of France—past and present—remains to be discovered.

(Editor's Presentation)

The Discovery of France is available at the Baylor Library. Call number: DC20.5 .R63 2007

Histoire de l'Amérique française

by Gilles Havard and Cécile Vidal. Paris: Flammarion, 2005.


Gilles Havard and Cécile Vidal's book is a wonderful overview of the history of 'New France' (La Nouvelle France), in the broad sense encompassing all of North America (though not the West Indies), dominated by the French from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth.

This book sets out to change our perspective on the French presence in North America, which is not limited to Québec and Louisiana. Did you know, for instance, that millions of U.S. citizens -- from North Dakota to New Mexico -- bear French family names such as Archambault, Bissonnette, Boucher, Colombe, Dion, Pineaux...?

L'Histoire de l'Amérique française is available at the Baylor Library. Call number: E18.82 .H385 2005

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