A Bite-Sized History of France

Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment

A French cheesemonger and an American academic and ex-pat join forces to serve up a sumptuous history of France and its food, in the delicious tradition of Anthony Bourdain, Peter Mayle, and Pamela Druckerman

“How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 varieties of cheese?” —Charles de Gaulle

From the cassoulet that won a war to the crêpe that doomed Napoleon, from the rebellions sparked by bread and salt to the new cuisines forged by empire, the history of France is intimately entwined with its gastronomic pursuits. A witty exploration of the facts and legends surrounding some of the most popular French foods and wines by a French cheesemonger and an American academic, A Bite-Sized History of France tells the compelling and often surprising story of France from the Roman era to modern times. Traversing the cuisines of France’s most famous cities as well as its underexplored regions, this innovative social history explores the impact of war and imperialism, the age-old tension between tradition and innovation, and the enduring use of food to prop up social and political identities.

The origins of the most legendary French foods and wines—from Roquefort and cognac to croissants and Calvados, from absinthe and oysters to Camembert and champagne—also reveal the social and political trends that propelled France’s rise upon the world stage. They help explain France’s dark history of war and conquest, as well as its most enlightened cultural achievements and the political and scientific innovations that transformed human history. These gastronomic tales will edify even the most seasoned lovers of food, history and all things French.

Praise

“Who would have guessed forks had so much to do with bayonets? From the introduction of wine to Gaul by the Romans to Napoleon’s pancake predictions before entering Russia, the strange dialectics of war and peas offer a fascinating means of exploring the origins of French culinary traditions. Funny and historically accurate, this delicious book will make you want to raid the fridge.”
—Jean Lopez, founder and editor-in-chief, Guerres & Histoire
“Have the French ever done anything that wasn’t motivated, one way or another, by their search for good food? It seems not, and I can’t imagine a more fascinating or titillating angle to explore the history of France than this wonderful book.”
—Clotilde Dusoulier, author of Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat like a Local
“From the delights of French chocolate (through Portuguese Jews of Bayonne) to France’s passion for plums (brought home by the Templars from Damascus), A Bite-Sized History of France offers satisfaction for all: tastes of history from the people who gave perhaps the world’s greatest cuisine to the whole world. Why travel with a guide book on dry history, architecture, or politics when you can sink your teeth into such a delicious feast?”
—Juliette Rossant, author of Super Chef

News and Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

A husband and wife—he is French; she, American—move briskly through the history of France with a picnic basket full of information about the connections between history and gastronomy. The research underlying this account is sturdy and impressive. . . .

Publishers Weekly

A fascinating history of France through food [that is] exceptionally well-researched. This culinary history is a treat for Francophiles.