On a recent visit to Italy, I read The Italians by John Hooper, The Economist’s Rome correspondent. The book is a trip through the country’s history, language, politics, food, crime, family life and sexual mores, conducted by a deeply knowledgeable guide. As a template for understanding what I was seeing around me, it was just what I needed.

Earlier in the year, I read Revolution Française: Emmanuel Macron and the Quest to Reinvent a Nation by Sophie Pedder (another The Economist journalist, Paris bureau chief). While, as its subtitle suggests, the book is a dissection of the French president rather than a national tour d’horizon, Pedder tells us about France’s history, its business culture and education system, its promise and its fractures — metropolitan and provincial, reformers and rejectionists, globalising elites and gilets jaunes.

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