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- Jean-Benoit Nadeau
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Subtitle: Why We Love France but Not the French by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow
At last, a fresh take on a country that no one can seem to understand. The French smoke, drink and eat more fat than anyone in the world, yet they live longer and have fewer heart problems than Americans. They take seven weeks of paid vacation per year, yet have the world’s highest productivity index. From a distance, modern France looks like a riddle. But up close, it all makes sense.
Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong shows how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Decrypting French ideas about land, food, privacy and language, the authors weave together the threads of French society – from centralization and the Napoleonic code to elite education and even street protests – giving us, for the first time, an understanding of France and the French. Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong is the most ambitious work published on France since Theodor Zeldin’s The French. It goes beyond Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon to explain not only the essence of the French, but also how they got to be the way they are. Unlike Jonathan Fenby’s France on the Brink, the authors do not see France in a state of decline, but one of perpetual renewal.
In 1999, Canadian journalists Nadeau and Barlow moved to Paris for a two-year fellowship to study France’s culture and economy in an effort to understand why the French resist globalization. They began by examining this puzzle: How does a country with “high taxes, a bloated civil service, a huge national debt, an over-regulated economy, over-the-top red tape, double-digit unemployment, and low incentives for entrepreneurs” also boast the world’s highest productivity index and rank as the third-largest exporter and fourth-biggest economic power? By delving into France’s cultural and political history, the authors show how it all works. Chapters are devoted to the French obsessions about World War II and the war in Algeria and how these events still shape attitudes and policies. Other chapters explore the French insistence on precision in language, their sense of private space, and the effects of immigration. In an era of irrational reactions to all things French, here is an eminently rational answer to the question, “Why are the French like that?” Beth Leistensnider