Book Review: At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion by Jean-Vincent Blanchard

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

I would hazard to guess that when most people think of the French Foreign Legion they think of hard faced mercenaries doing France’s dirty work, the idealized Beau Geste bringing civilization to the North African Desert or legionnaires fighting to the last man at Camerone.  At the Edge of the World  by Jean-Vincent Blanchard tells the real story of the French Foreign Legion and it needs no embellishment.

The stats: the book is 222 pages of text separated into two parts with 15 chapters.  The chapters are arranged chronologically and thematically.

Since its creation in 1831 the French Foreign legion has been both bloodily pragmatic and an organization that myth has grow up around.  Indeed, it can at times be difficult to separate the myth from reality so deeply have the two become intertwined.  This book does a very good job of separating the two.

From origins as an organ to patrol the new French colony of Algeria in 1831 the Legion to its use in World War I to its return to the desert after the war the first 100 years of the Legion are indeed the stuff of legend.  The list of it’s exploits from lonely desert outposts fighting of desert tribesmen to the heroic stand at Camerone would fill pages.  The tale is told in this book with a scholars eye to the facts but also in eminently readable fashion that lays out the truth in all its romantic glory without glossing over reality.

Prof. Blanchard does an excellent job of examining the recruitment and use of the Legion.  It is a study of the Legion’s formation and employment during it’s first century of existence.  It is well written and obviously well researched.  This would be a tough topic for any aauthor to tackle but this well written and easy to read work will no doubt become the standard history of the French Foreign Legion.  An excellent book!