The most renowned historian of his time. Fernand Braudel owed his international reputation to the two great volumes on the Mediterranean in the age of Philip II which he published in 1949, and to his trilogy on the material civilisation of world capitalism, which appeared between 1967 and 1979. He died a few months before the first volumes of his incomplete final work came out in 1986. More local in topic, and limited in execution. The Identity of france has generally been treated as a charming but relatively slight coda to his achievement as a whole. In fact, this concluding project - on which Braudel embarked in his late seventies - was conceived on a colossal scale. The torso that survives, two volumes devoted to geography, demography and production, is over a thousand pages in its English edition. They were to be followed by two sequels: one concerned with French politics, culture and society, the other with external relations. This quartet on 'Identity' was then to be completed with two further works, respectively on the 'Birth' and the 'Destiny' of France, in which Braudel planned to re-totalise the structures analysed separately in the first four studies into an integrated narrative history of his country. Perhaps incredulous of such ambition, Sian Reynolds has taken the liberty of suppressing the full extent of it in her graceful English translation.
LRB 9 May 1991 | PDF Download