February 2020 book reviews

We read recent releases with a link to France. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time. This month, we will look at the man that changed gambling forever, a Josephine Baker biography and New Wave cinema

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From the Mill to Monte Carlo: The Working-Class Englishman Who Beat the Monaco Casino and Changed Gambling Forever - Anne Fletcher


Amberley, £20 ISBN: 978-1-4456-7139-0

Based on the life of Joseph Hobson Jagger, a textile industry business man from Bradford, Yorkshire, this book tells all on the journey of this mysterious man who once broke the bank at Monte Carlo in Monaco.

From his childhood to working in fabrics, the most important industry in Bradford at the time, to then winning millions, Mr Jagger’s life is one of the most interesting, yet, unknown by most people. Here, we get to know more about him, his family, and his roots.

The author, Anne Fletcher, who is the great-great-great niece of the gambler, explores every aspect from the beginning to the end of the life of Mr Jagger.

After a lot of research, she even questions his luck in the casino.

He was certainly determined and strongly motivated to travel from England with nothing but hope to win big. But did he really break the bank?

What happened in Monte Carlo? How could this man who did not even speak French win? And why was his family living in poverty years later? This is what the author is about to explain.

As well as revealing all the secrets of the exciting life of a gambler, she also makes us discover more about Bradford, the North of England in the 19th century and the history of Monaco which is now the smallest country in Europe with the most billionaires.

As such, the author provides fascinating insight into two strongly contrasting lives. She became a true detective to write this story because little information is available on Mr Jagger.

She also tries to understand him and his tactics at the roulette table, in order to show that he left a real legacy that is still used today in many casinos but is not really acknowledged.

The tale of Mr Jagger’s life is the perfect story for anyone who dreams of change and winning millions.

Josephine: Singer, soldier, dancer, spy - Eilidh McGinness

Eilidh McGinness publisher, £11.50 ISBN: 978-1916245303

This book could seem like a simple biography of the dancer Josephine Baker, although some parts have been transformed and re-invented. But this biography of Josephine goes deeper and deals with many different topics during the life of the well-known dancer.

It starts with the childhood of Josephine, in the United-States where segregation had taken over the country.

Readers see Josephine growing up in an environment where she is not welcomed.

It is also interesting to see her relationship with her mother, who would do anything for her and tried to make her daughter be as strong as possible.

What we are invited to discover is how Josephine grows up and actually manages to become the strong woman her mother wanted her to be.

We follow her from one adventure to another. Moving to France was an important step – she finally found there what she always wanted, freedom.

Her life was not just glamorous. She also had a very important role during the Second World War. It is even more interesting to be able to follow her journey through her battles and successes and to see how she became such an icon.

The legacy of the New Wave in French cinema - Douglas Morrey

Bloomsbury, £24.99, ISBN: 978-1-5013-1193-2

In 1960s France, a movement known as the New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) changed the world of filmmaking forever.

This movement was one of the most influential in Europe and included the creation of movies such as À bout de souffle (Breathless) and Paris nous appartient (Paris belongs to us).

The genre’s style continued to evolve over time, and also saw a major change after May ‘68 with French actors becoming famous internationally. Brigitte Bardot, Romy Schneider, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve were notably very popular.

But this book does not only show what and who was in vogue. It also analyses how cinema in France evolved and how the New Wave brought something exceptional to French cinema.

The author reminds the reader of key moments in French cinema over the years but also introduces important filmmakers from the fifties and now: figures such as Luc Besson, Chabrol and Godard are notably mentioned, many times.

This book is a great way to explore French cinema and learn more about it as well as understanding the different concepts at its creative core – and its influence on modern cinema.