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At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion

Jean-Vincent Blanchard



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01 May 2017
History; Military history; Irregular or guerrilla forces & warfare
The remarkable story of the French Foreign Legion, its dramatic rise throughout the nineteenth century, and its most committed champion, General Hubert Lyautey.

An aura of mystery, romance, and danger surrounds the French Foreign Legion, the all-volunteer corps of the French Army, founded in 1831. Famous for its physically grueling training in harsh climates, the legion fought in French wars from Mexico to Madagascar, Southeast Asia to North Africa. To this day, despite its reputation for being assigned the riskiest missions in the roughest terrain, the mystique of the legion continues to attract men from every corner of the world.

In At the Edge of the World, historian Jean-Vincent Blanchard follows the legion's rise to fame during the nineteenth century - focusing on its campaigns in Indochina and especially in Africa - when the corps played a central role in expanding and protecting the French Empire. As France struggled to be a power capable of rivaling the British, the figure of the legionnaire - deadly, self-sacrificing, uncompromisingly efficient - came to represent the might and morale that would secure a greater, stronger nation.

Drawing from rare, archival memoirs and testimonies of legionnaires from the period and tracing the fascinating career of Hubert Lyautey, France's first resident-general in Morocco and a hero to many a legionnaire, At the Edge of the World chronicles the Foreign Legion at the height of its renown, when the corps and its archetypically handsome, moody, and marginalized recruits became both the symbols of a triumphant colonialism and the stuff of legend.
By:   Jean-Vincent Blanchard
Imprint:   Bloomsbury
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm,  Spine: 25mm
Weight:   612g
ISBN:   9780802743879
ISBN 10:   0802743870
Pages:   272
Publication Date:   01 May 2017
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Jean--Vincent Blanchard is Professor of French Studies at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books published in Canada and France, as well as Eminence: Cardinal Richelieu and the Rise of France.

Reviews for At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion

The author deftly captures the romance as well as the horror of life in the French Foreign Legion. Blanchard's style, broad knowledge of France, and scholarly research in the legion's archives make this a detailed and fascinating book of French history. * Kirkus Reviews * An entertaining, boisterous history of the French colonial project writ large, in which the Legion, with all its faults and contradictions, played a central role . . . Blanchard adroitly captures the almost surreal absurdity of placing such a corps at the spearhead of a global project promising liberte, egalite, et fraternite. * Publishers Weekly * Storytelling and details are not lacking in At the Edge of the World. * The New York Times Book Review * Jean-Vincent Blanchard dissects the facts and fiction behind the legendary outfit in this wide-ranging, heavily researched discussion of the history, culture, defining characteristics, and raison d'etre of the French Foreign Legion. * Washington Independent Review of Books * The book succinctly captures the romance and reality of the Legion. It shows how the Legion adapted to its different missions while confronting its challenges. At the Edge of the World shows why the legend of the Legion endures today. I recommend this book for any reader interested in the French Foreign Legion, the history of French colonialism, or counterinsurgency. -- Robert J. Rielly * Military Review * [Edith Pilaf's] image of the moody and uncompromising Legionnaire, attracted by the promise of `blood, bullets, bayonets and women in an Arab land' . . . gets closest to the historical and psychological truth, as laid before us in [Jean-Vincent Blanchard's] gripping, disturbing and controversial account of the Legion's first century. * The Daily Mail * Well written with extensive use of memoirs and archival material, including the stories of high-ranking officers, colonial governors, and common soldiers. The skillful blend of these sources makes it an enjoyable read. This is a worthy retelling of the French Foreign Legion at the height of its fame and renown. * Military Heritage * Blanchard's scholarly but entertaining book shows that the mystery and romance associated with the legion had some basis in reality. Blanchard uses the career of Marshal Louis-Hubert Lyautey, who was involved in campaigns with the legion from Algeria to Indochina to Madagascar, to explore the legion's character, role, and fights. -- Lawrence D. Freedman * Foreign Affairs * Blanchard's achievement is to bring to light the historical paradox of the legionnaire:...The disenchanted legionnaire is himself a byproduct of the contradictions and failures of European modernization, yet he brazenly risks his life abroad to spread that same project of modernity. * America Magazine online *

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