Delightful, discerning, and charmingly irreverent.

FRANCE

AN ADVENTURE HISTORY

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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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

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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A welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.

THE ESSENTIAL KERNER COMMISSION REPORT

A timely distilled version of the powerful report on racism in the U.S.

Created by Lyndon Johnson’s executive order in 1967, the Kerner Commission was convened in response to inner-city riots in cities like Newark and Detroit, and its findings have renewed relevance in the wake of the George Floyd verdict and other recent police brutality cases. The report, named for Otto Kerner, the chairman of the commission and then governor of Illinois, explored the systemic reasons why an “apocalyptic fury” broke out that summer even in the wake of the passage of significant civil rights and voting acts—a response with striking echoes in recent events across the country. In this edited and contextualized version, New Yorker staff writer Cobb, with the assistance of Guariglia, capably demonstrates the continued relevance and prescience of the commission’s findings on institutionalized discriminatory policies in housing, education, employment, and the media. The commission was not the first to address racial violence in the century, and it would not be the last, but the bipartisan group of 11 members—including two Blacks and one woman—was impressively thorough in its investigation of the complex overarching social and economic issues at play. “The members were not seeking to understand a singular incident of disorder,” writes Cobb, “but the phenomenon of rioting itself.” Johnson wanted to know what happened, why it happened, and what could be done so it doesn’t happen “again and again.” Of course, it has happened again and again, and many of the report’s recommendations remain unimplemented. This version of the landmark report features a superb introduction by Cobb and a closing section of frequently asked questions—e.g., “How come nothing has been done about these problems?” The book contains plenty of fodder for crucial national conversations and many excellent ideas for much-needed reforms that could be put into place now.

A welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.

Pub Date: July 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-892-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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