Delightful, discerning, and charmingly irreverent.



Discovering France with a shrewd, deeply knowledgeable guide.

Melding memoir, travelogue, and history, British biographer and cultural historian Robb offers a sweeping, spirited, and refreshingly unsentimental portrait of France, from the Bronze Age to the present. Traveling by bicycle, train, and on foot, the author and his wife ventured all over the country, searching for the nation’s social, political, and geographical past and alert to intimations of its future. Robb brings to his travels a “taste for apparently futile journeys of discovery,” an impressive command of history, and lively curiosity. Promising a book different from the “express train” narratives that rush through centuries focused on major figures and events, the author takes a slow route. His well-populated narrative includes Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and de Gaulle but also Ermoldus Nigellus, a poet with a “cheeky sense of humour” whose chronicles bore witness to ninth-century Brittany; early medieval polymath Gerbert d’Aurillac, who became Archbishop of Reims and, as Sylvester II, the first French pope; Jacques-Louis Ménétra, a free-spirited glazier from Paris whose autobiography painted a ribald picture of 18th-century France; and Louis-Napoleon’s ambitious mistress Harriet Howard. In present-day France, Robb discovered 159 towns with the status of “Plus Beaux Village,” looking like “habitats created by committees.” A topography dominated by roadways features some 50,000 roundabouts. The author examines changes in France’s social and political life as represented by the 2015 attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, burkini bans at the beach, and the 2018 protests of the Gilets Jaunes. Unlike Francophiles who insist that the essence of France will endure forever, Robb sees a future of vast changes—in land, people, language, and spirit. He appends the volume with a detailed chronology as well as acerbic notes for travelers who may want to emulate his explorations without being killed on their bicycles.

Delightful, discerning, and charmingly irreverent.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-324-00256-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.



A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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