Georges-Louis Buffon, an eighteenth-century French scientist, was the first to promote the widespread idea that nature in the New World was deficient; in America, which he had never visited, dogs don't bark, birds don't sing, and—by extension—humans are weaker, less intelligent, and less potent. Thomas Jefferson, infuriated by these claims, brought a seven-foot-tall carcass of a moose from America to the entry hall of his Parisian hotel, but the five-foot-tall Buffon remained unimpressed and refused to change his views on America's inferiority.
Buffon, as Philippe Roger demonstrates here, was just one of the first in a long line of Frenchmen who have built a history of anti-Americanism in that country, a progressive history that is alternately ludicrous and trenchant. The American Enemy
is Roger's bestselling and widely acclaimed history of French anti-Americanism, presented here in English translation for the first time.
With elegance and good humor, Roger goes back 200 years to unearth the deep roots of this anti-Americanism and trace its changing nature, from the belittling, as Buffon did, of the "savage American" to France's resigned dependency on America for goods and commerce and finally to the fear of America's global domination in light of France's thwarted imperial ambitions. Roger sees French anti-Americanism as barely acquainted with actual fact; rather, anti-Americanism is a cultural pillar for the French, America an idea that the country and its culture have long defined themselves against.
Sharon Bowman's fine translation of this magisterial work brings French anti-Americanism into the broad light of day, offering fascinating reading for Americans who care about our image abroad and how it came about.
“Mr. Roger almost single-handedly creates a new field of study, tracing the nuances and imagery of anti-Americanism in France over 250 years. He shows that far from being a specific reaction to recent American policies, it has been knit into the very substance of French intellectual and cultural life. . . . His book stuns with its accumulated detail and analysis.”—Edward Rothstein, New York Times
“A brilliant and exhaustive guide to the history of French Ameriphobia.”—Simon Schama, New Yorker