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The Tour de France

A Cultural History, Updated with a New Preface

Christopher S. Thompson (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 406 pages
ISBN: 9780520256309
April 2008
$28.95, £19.95
In this highly original history of the world's most famous bicycle race, Christopher S. Thompson, mining previously neglected sources and writing with infectious enthusiasm for his subject, tells the compelling story of the Tour de France from its creation in 1903 to the present. Weaving the words of racers, politicians, Tour organizers, and a host of other commentators together with a wide-ranging analysis of the culture surrounding the event—including posters, songs, novels, films, and media coverage—Thompson links the history of the Tour to key moments and themes in French history. Examining the enduring popularity of Tour racers, Thompson explores how their public images have changed over the past century. A new preface explores the long-standing problem of doping in light of recent scandals.
Christopher S. Thompson is Associate Professor of History at Ball State University.
“This is a history of the Tour de France with a difference. . . . There are several books to tell you who first won the yellow jersey or the identity of the youngest post-war winner of the Tour de France, the kind you might receive as a gift. This is sort of book you’d buy for yourself. . . . If you’re new to the sport and the history of the Tour perhaps I’d first suggest another book to explain why the yellow jersey is yellow and other basics. Instead this book is the next level of the analysis, if not the ultimate English-language guide to the Tour de France.”—//Inrng: The Inner Ring
“This book is filled fascinating material. . . . Thompson has made a great deal of sense out of this complicated story.”—Podium Cafe
“[This] is no lightweight compilation of anecdotes. It is a comprehensive history of France from the race’s inception. Culture, sport, media, politics, wars, are all put into context with an event that has played a huge role in French identity, long before Greg LeMond or Lance Armstrong were born.”—The Bike Blog-Albany Times Union
“The Tour de France has now been run for more than a hundred years, but only in 2006 has it at last received the full-scale scholarly attention it has long deserved. As Christopher Thompson rightly observes in his splendid study of this cultural phenomenon, the history of the Tour has always, in a way, been about the history of France. . . . By setting twenty-first century dilemmas within a century-long historical narrative, Thompson has made the Tour's societal and cultural connections more comprehensible than ever before. One is tempted to write that this is first-rate sports history. Plain and simple first-rate French history will, however, do.”—Michael B. Miller H-France Review Of Books
"Impossible to put down! . . . This is a fascinating and exceptionally well written book . . . social historians of France will find Thompson's study a treat."—Eugenia Kiesling French Politics, Culture & Society
“A well-written and engaging cultural history.”—Michael Zimmerman Indianapolis News & Star
“Released during the 2006 Tour, Thompson's work raises significant questions that only loom larger in the wake of the doping scandals that rocked the Tour this year . . . Thompson's great contribution to the current debate reflects his process throughout the work. He does not offer pat answers and saccharine bromides about the inherent values in sport that will transcend current controversies and eventually win out for the good of sport and society. Rather, he takes a hard look at how sport, and specifically the Tour, has served as a means for constructing, and contesting, a wide variety of social identities. He locates the tensions that existed, and exist, between competing narratives and teases them out for us. Ultimately, he reminds us that the current controversy regarding doping and the Tour is an important one; for in the face of ever-expanding genetic breakthroughs and the possibility of genetic manipulation, ‘the Tour is likely to be part of a global conversation about an even more fundamental question: what does it mean to be human?’”—Chris Mack H-German
"Shows that sport has been for us moderns the ultimate tabula rasa into which we pour our hopes, fears, prejudices and self-interest."—Robert A. Nye, author of Crime, Madness, & Politics in Modern France and Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France

"Chris Thompson has written an engaging, nicely-paced account of France's world-famous cycle race: his writing is lively and full of detail and excitement. But he has done much more than simply narrate the story of the Tour. His book sets the race—its history, its participants and its meaning—firmly in its shifting national and cultural contexts. The sections dealing with professional cycling as a form of labor and with the Tour's place in France's troubled twentieth century are absolutely first-rate: insightful and original. This is the best history of the Tour that we have and are likely to have for many years, a work of scholarship that deserves to find a broad general readership."—Tony Judt, author of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

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