That Sweet Enemy, by Robert & Isabelle Tombs

Click to follow

Despite its doorstep size, this is an endlessly fascinating volume on a topic that, in other hands, could have been packed with dullness. The authors have produced an enthralling account of the always wary, often fractious, sometimes bloody relationship between Britain and France since the 1680s. Dusty corners of history that would normally provoke a yawn are brilliantly illuminated through telling detail and vivid sketches of protagonists. We're not only given a brisk profile of William of Orange ("one of the ablest, most important, least loved and most forgotten of British monarchs") but also his bill for the Glorious Revolution: £663,752. Behind the bloody skirmishes of the mid-18th century, we learn the characters of the two men who "harnessed the novel forces of patriotism". Pitt was "a coldly professional politician", while his opposite number Choiseul was "fashionable, amusingly impertinent, charming". While French naval tactics involved avoiding "messy battles", the British preferred "close action, firing fast and inflicting maximum damage". The major consequence of the English occupation of Paris following the 1815 campaign was, as Dumas noted, "the birth of the biftek in France.

Comments