True bestseller of the popularized history book, Metronome by Lorànt Deutsch continues to take pride of place at the head of the gondola in bookstores. And after two printed editions - classic and illustrated -, it is television's turn to seize the phenomenon with an expensive documentary series to come very soon on France 5. Let us come back to this book appearing among the best sellers - if this is the best - from the history book in France.
The walk of a passionate storyteller
Lorànt Deutsch is passionate about French history and a lover of Paris. It is therefore with the greatest of logic that he leads us into this passion through the rhythm of the Parisian metro: twenty-one chapters each corresponding to the name of a metro station and telling a century of our history. But Metronome is not only a popularization book, it is at the same time a collection of anecdotes and a small tourist guide allowing to discover an unusual and little-known Paris. It is thus three books in one that he invites us to share with his most communicative enthusiasm. Fun, simple and easy to access, Metronome has everything to conquer the Boeotian and immerse him in a vibrant history of Paris. Because make no mistake, Lorànt Deutsch does not tell the history of France but that which he perceives through the history of the capital and we cannot summarize the history of France to that of a city, however important -she.
Twenty-one centuries of Paris history, accompanied by atypical guided tours, this is how Metronome. Some could criticize him for dealing too quickly with certain historical periods, especially in the last chapters. But on the contrary, we can only praise Lorànt Deutsch's desire to measure time in a homogeneous way like a "Metronome": a century per chapter. And this desire makes it possible, for example, to give the Middle Ages its true historical content and to constitute the heart of the work with its millennial duration. It is therefore particularly appreciable to see this period, often overlooked in the history books, exposed to its true value. However, it remains to be seen how to expose and tell the story!
In the shadow of the king, the peplum and Michelet
Lorànt Deutsch claims to have two influences, we will attribute a third to him. What are they ? Eddy Mitchell, Jules Michelet and royalty! From the first two stems his passion for history and from the third his view of history. Indeed, the peplums of the Last session presented by the rocker of the Black Socks and the reading of the romantic historian, "father" of our national history, gave Lorànt Deutsch the will to be "a broker of stories". But which ferryman? Because his influences appear omnipresent in his work and are felt above all in the style. While far from having the lyrical pen of Michelet, Lorànt Deutsch is nonetheless a proud disciple. He does not hesitate to bring history to life, to tell legends with his heart. It's part of the charm of the book, but are we still in history when myths and reality merge? Indeed, Metronome can sometimes be perceived as a historical-heroic fresco of which the Parisians are the eternal heroes. And it is up to Lorànt Deutsch to immerse us in the national novel which we could do without, a novel which in addition to the Parisians has royalty as its main character.
Reading Metronomeabove all, we are struck by the fact that history continues to revolve around kings, queens and their loved ones to the point where we sometimes feel that it is to them alone that we owe this story. Lorànt Deutsch exhibits a very conservative view of history which sometimes leads him to deep historical errors that far exceed the many and small factual errors that dot the book. We will take an example developed by our friends from the Goliard [s] where Lorànt Deutsch, through Gothic art, opposes the cultures of northern and southern Europe. But more than the absurdity of an opposition between two cultures of which Gothic art would be the representative break, Lorànt Deutsch seems to ignore elementary knowledge of medieval art history and architecture - which is all the more surprising. seen the certain erudition which it can show on the capital -. Because it is now generally accepted that Gothic architecture emerged and developed in the continuity of Romanesque architecture in terms of construction techniques. And this example is indicative of the main problem of Metronome : Lorànt Deutsch announces, affirms but delivers no critical vision. Take for example his theory that Joan of Arc would be the half-sister of King Charles VII. Giving your opinion is perfectly normal, especially in a popularization book. Making assumptions is the basics of any history book. But we cannot just throw a stone in the pond in a few words without substantiating or justifying anything and then move on to the next paragraph.
What popularization for history?
We understand and appreciate Lorànt Deutsch's passion for the history of France and that of Paris but we cannot endorse his vision of history, an outdated and erroneous vision that is above all revealing of another problem: the future of publishing popular works. Because Metronome is far from being an isolated example - think of the Bern, Gallo and other Minc, etc. - and more and more, it is no longer the intrinsic quality of a book that takes precedence but simply its marketing significance. Far from the 1970s when history was queen in the French landscape of publishing in the humanities, the academic world today seems to have cut itself off from the general public and appears to be locked into an elitist silence. We thus find ourselves faced with a real problem: what popularization tomorrow for history?
Lorànt Deutsch, Métronome, the history of France to the rhythm of the Paris metro, Éditions Michel Lafon, Paris, 2009.
Read also: To finish with Lorànt Deutsch and the Metronome.