Tombs, Robert P. 1949-

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Tombs, Robert P. 1949-


Born May 8, 1949, in England; married; wife's name Isabelle (an educator). Education: Université de Paris IV: Sorbonne; University of Cambridge, Ph.D.


Home—Cambridge, England. Office—St. John's College, Cambridge CB2 1TP, England. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, educator. University of Cambridge, St. John's College, Cambridge, England, fellow and professor of French history.


The War against Paris, 1871, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1981.

(With J.P.T. Bury) Thiers, 1797-1877: A Political Life, Allen & Unwin (Boston, MA), 1986.

(Editor) Nationhood and Nationalism in France: From Boulangism to the Great War, 1889-1918, HarperCollins Academic (New York, NY), 1991.

France, 1814-1914 ("Longman History of France" series), Longman (New York, NY), 1996.

The Paris Commune, 1871, Addison Wesley Longman (New York, NY), 1999.

(Editor, with wife, Isabelle Tombs) Voices from Wartime France, 1939-1945: Clandestine Resistance and Vichy Newspapers from the British Library Newspaper Library at Colindale, London, (microfilm), Primary Source Microfilm (Woodbridge, CT), 2002.

(With Isabelle Tombs) That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, William Heinemann (London, England), 2006, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.


Robert P. Tombs was born in England and attended the University of Cambridge prior to traveling to France to work on his doctoral degree. He researched modern French history at the Université de Paris IV: Sorbonne, then returned to Cambridge where he completed his Ph.D. He eventually joined the faculty of the University of Cambridge, at St. John's College, where he is a fellow. His primary areas of research interest include nineteenth-century French political history, both in general and with a focus on popular political culture. Much of his research has been related to the Paris Commune of 1871, and French nationalism, particularly during the period from the 1830s leading up to the First World War. He is also very interested in the relationship between the French and the British, and its development from the seventeenth century up through modern day. In this respect, he has researched not only the political and military relationship, but also cultural and economic concerns between the two nations. This interest is bolstered, in part, by his marriage to a French-born historian, Isabelle Tombs, who has a doctorate in modern English history, and with whom he has both edited and published several books.

France, 1814-1914, which Tombs wrote on his own, is the first volume in the "Longman History of France" series. The purpose of the book is to offer readers a thorough history that combines both the political viewpoint that has long been considered the staple of history books on this period, and a more modern, social history of the time. He illustrates the dichotomy that is acknowledged on a political level from the Revolution onward, but extends that theory into the other areas as well. Eric A. Arnold, Jr., in a review for History: Review of New Books, commented: "Tombs has set himself the task of analyzing the ongoing mentality of so many of the French. To a large extent he has succeeded. Still, I must say that this book, for all of its undeniable value, is a difficult one."

In The Paris Commune, 1871, Tombs addresses this brief but important period in French history that has been overlooked and become somewhat obscured by the passage of time. The Paris Commune refers to the governing body in Paris that ruled for approximately two months in the spring of 1871. After France lost the Franco-Prussian War, there was an uprising in Paris, and the Commune was the result. The people were outraged by the drain on the nation's resources by the war effort that ultimately failed, which fueled the situation, as did the growing discontent among the French workers. The Parisians, who had been staunch supporters of a democratic republic, feared that a monarchical restoration was in the offing and began to call for their own, separate republican government. Tombs explains the situation, delving into the issues beneath the public outcry, and attempts to debunk the various myths that have developed regarding the events. John M. Roberts, in a contribution for the English Historical Review, praised Tombs's effort, remarking that "this is a short book, but no interested historian should ignore it. It is, quite simply, the most helpful study to be published in either French or English on any aspect of the Commune for a decade or more." His one complaint was that Tombs did not have enough space to go into additional depth on certain points, but acknowledged that for that to be possible, the book would have needed to be a far more lengthy volume and that the subject did not merit it.

That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, which Tombs wrote with his wife, Isabelle Tombs, examines the long-standing love-hate relationship between the British and the French people, examining the ways in which this feud has affected the political arena in both nations, particularly as it pertains to World War Two, and in so doing strives to present each side of the arguments in a fair, unbiased manner. As the authors themselves provide an advocate in each camp—Robert Tombs as an Englishman who has studied French history extensively, and Isabelle Tombs as a Frenchwoman who has made an extensive study of British history— they have attempted to use their backgrounds and range of knowledge to their advantages. The Tombses point out that, while France and Great Britain were often at war against each other through the centuries, this more outward animosity ceased in the early part of the nineteenth century, after which the countries served as allied forces against their joint foes. However, on a more personal, social level, the French and the British have retained a sense of rivalry toward each other, and in more modern times this sense of discord has become more evident as the altered political landscape no longer requires the same sense of unity.

In That Sweet Enemy, the Tombses trace the history of the relationship between France and Great Britain over three centuries, addressing the points of conflict and also those areas in which they have influenced each other. However, the couple's own dynamic is reflected in the structure of the book, causing some critics to suggest their share in the point of view is not as evenly divided as they intended. Henri Astier, in a review for the London Times Online, remarked that the book "has a distinctly British feel to it. The title phrase—a quote from Sir Philip Sidney—would not occur to a French mind. Robert, like a male host who does most of the talking at a dinner party, seems to have the dominant voice. Isabelle is allowed to speak, but she gets her views across most clearly in exchanges at the end of each main section." Hywel Williams, reviewing for the New Statesman, remarked: "This book shows how the taste and genius of individual French and British artists have created the currents of thought that unite as much as they divide. It is a prodigious achievement." Stuart Jeffries, reviewing for the Guardian Online, praised the book for its handling of an overwhelming topic, stating that it "fills a gap in the literature, tracing a relationship of continual misapprehension and occasional affection. It's entertaining, but doesn't tell the whole story. How could it? There are more centuries of Franco-British hatred than a single volume can reasonably cover."



American Historical Review, February, 1983, review of The War against Paris, 1871, p. 127.

Booklist, December 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, p. 8.

Book World, February 4, 2007, Maya Jasonoff, "The Love-Hate Relationship: Britain and France Have Loathed Each Other and Learned from Each Other," p. 2.

Contemporary Review, March, 1997, review of France, 1814-1914, p. 166.

Economist, January 16, 1982, review of The War against Paris, 1871, p. 83.

English Historical Review, February, 2001, John M. Roberts, review of The Paris Commune, 1871, p. 258; April, 2006, Robert Tombs, "The Paris Commune: French Politics, Culture, and Society at the Crossroads of the Revolutionary Tradition and Revolutionary Socialism," p. 621.

European History Quarterly, January, 1998, Sharif Gemie, review of France, 1814-1914, p. 146.

French Studies, July 2004, Pamela Pilbeam, review of France, 1814-1914, p. 417.

Historical Journal, December, 1999, David Hopkin, review of France, 1814-1914, p. 1179.

History Review, September, 1999, review of The Paris Commune, 1871, p. 36.

History: Review of New Books, summer, 1997, Eric A. Arnold, review of France, 1814-1914.

History: The Journal of the Historical Association, October, 1998, Owen Jackson, review of France, 1814-1914, p. 736.

History Today, January, 1982, Barrie Rose, review of The War against Paris, 1871, p. 58.

Library Journal, January 1, 2007, Marie Marmo Mullaney, review of That Sweet Enemy, p. 125.

New Republic, September 13, 1982, Alistair Horne, review of The War against Paris, 1871, p. 34.

New Statesman, May 29, 2006, Hywel Williams, "Cross-Channel," p. 55.

New York Review of Books, March 29, 2007, Julian Barnes, "The Odd Couple," p. 4.

Spectator, March 15, 1997, M.R.D. Foot, review of France, 1814-1914, p. 37; March 25, 2006, "The Goddams and the Snail-Eaters," p. 40.

Times Higher Education Supplement, April 18, 1997, Pamela Pilbeam, review of France, 1814-1914, p. 28.

Times Literary Supplement, August 9, 1996, review of France, 1814-1914, p. 27; September 1, 2000, Maurice Larkin, review of The Paris Commune, 1871, p. 26; May 12, 2006, "Suspicious Neighbours," p. 5.


Edinburgh Guide Online, (August 26, 2006), Bill Dunlop, "Edinburgh International Book Festival."

Guardian Online, (March 25, 2006), Stuart Jeffries, "Plus ça Change."

London Times, (May 10, 2006), Henri Astier, "Britain and France."

Royal Society for Encouragement of Arts Web site, (December 6, 2007), author profile.

University of Cambridge, History Faculty Web site, (December 7, 2007), faculty profile.