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France
Map of France in the world and position of its largest single land territory in continental Europe.
Map of France in the world and position of its largest single land territory in continental Europe.

France (French: [fʁɑ̃s] Listen), officially the French Republic (French: République française) is a transcontinental country spanning Western Europe and overseas regions and territories in South America and the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Including all of its territories, France has twelve time zones, the most of any country. Its metropolitan area extends from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea; overseas territories include French Guiana in South America, Saint Pierre and Miquelon in North Atlantic, French West Indies and several islands in Oceania and Indian Ocean. Due to its several coastal territories, France has the largest exclusive economic zone in the world. France borders Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Andorra and Spain in Europe, as well as the Netherlands, Suriname and Brazil in the Americas. Its eighteen integral regions (five of which are overseas) span a combined area of 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi) and over 67 million people (). France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre; other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Inhabited since the Palaeolithic era, the territory of Metropolitan France was settled by Celtic tribes known as Gauls during the Iron Age. Rome annexed the area in 51 BC, leading to a distinct Gallo-Roman culture that laid the foundation of the French language. The Germanic Franks arrived in 476 and formed the Kingdom of Francia, which became the heartland of the Carolingian Empire. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 partitioned the empire, with West Francia becoming the Kingdom of France in 987.

In the High Middle Ages, France was a powerful but highly decentralised feudal kingdom in which the king's authority was barely felt. King Philip Augustus achieved remarkable success in the strengthening of royal power and the expansion of his realm, defeating his rivals and doubling its size. By the end of his reign, the kingdom had emerged as the most powerful state in Europe. From the mid-14th to the mid-15th century, France was plunged into a series of dynastic conflicts for the French throne, collectively known as the Hundred Years' War, and a distinct French identity emerged as a result. The French Renaissance saw art and culture flourish, various wars with rival powers, and the establishment of a global colonial empire, which by the 20th century would become the second largest in the world. The second half of the 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Catholics and Huguenots that severely weakened the country. But France once again emerged as Europe's dominant cultural, political and military power in the 17th century under Louis XIV following the Thirty Years' War. Inadequate economic policies, an inequitable taxation system as well as endless wars (notably a defeat in the Seven Years' War and costly involvement in the American War of Independence), left the kingdom in a precarious economic situation by the end of the 18th century. This precipitated the French Revolution of 1789, which overthrew the absolute monarchy, replaced the Ancien Régime with one of history's first modern republics and produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which expresses the nation's ideals to this day.

France reached its political and military zenith in the early 19th century under Napoleon Bonaparte, subjugating much of continental Europe and establishing the First French Empire. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of European and world history. The collapse of the empire initiated a period of relative decline, in which France endured a tumultuous succession of governments until the founding of the French Third Republic during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Subsequent decades saw a period of optimism, cultural and scientific flourishing, as well as economic prosperity known as the Belle Époque. France was one of the major participants of World War I, from which it emerged victorious at great human and economic cost. It was among the Allied powers of the World War II, but was soon occupied by the Axis in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, the short-lived Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The current Fifth Republic was formed in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle. Algeria and most French colonies became independent in the 1960s, with the majority retaining close economic and military ties with France. (Full article...)

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1897 illustration of La Peau de chagrin, drawn by Adrien Moreau and published by George Barrie & Son
1897 illustration of La Peau de chagrin, drawn by Adrien Moreau and published by George Barrie & Son

La Peau de chagrin (French pronunciation: ​[la po də ʃaɡʁɛ̃], The Skin of Shagreen), known in English as The Wild Ass's Skin is an 1831 novel by French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850). Set in early 19th-century Paris, it tells the story of a young man who finds a magic piece of shagreen (untanned skin from a wild ass) that fulfills his every desire. For each wish granted, however, the skin shrinks and consumes a portion of his physical energy. La Peau de chagrin belongs to the Études philosophiques group of Balzac's sequence of novels, La Comédie humaine.

Before the book was completed, Balzac created excitement about it by publishing a series of articles and story fragments in several Parisian journals. Although he was five months late in delivering the manuscript, he succeeded in generating sufficient interest that the novel sold out instantly upon its publication. A second edition, which included a series of twelve other "philosophical tales", was released one month later. (Full article...)
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Honoré de Balzac was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled, La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the 1815 fall of Napoleon.

Due to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multifaceted characters, who are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. His writing influenced many subsequent novelists such as Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Benito Pérez Galdós, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Many of Balzac's works have been made into or have inspired films, and they are a continuing source of inspiration for writers, filmmakers and critics.

An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school. His willful nature caused trouble throughout his life and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. When he finished school, Balzac was an apprentice in a law office, but he turned his back on the study of law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine. Before and during his career as a writer, he attempted to be a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician; he failed in all of these efforts. La Comédie humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes scenes from his own experience.

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Cooking escargots
Cooking escargots
Escargot (IPA: [ɛs.kaʁ.ɡo]) is the French word for snail. It is also a dish consisting of cooked land snails. It is often served as an hors d'oeuvre and is common in France and India (particularly among the Naga people). Escargot is part of the typical cuisines of Cyprus, Malta, Crete, areas of mainland Greece, as well as the North African countries Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Escargot is consumed in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. (Full article...)
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David Émile Durkheim (French: [emil dyʁkɛm] or [dyʁkajm]; 15 April 1858 – 15 November 1917) was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and, with Max Weber, and Karl Marx, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science.

From his lifetime, much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain their integrity and coherence in modernity, an era in which traditional social and religious ties are no longer assumed, and in which new social institutions have come into being.

Durkheim asserted that sociology is unique from other disciplines, such as psychology, because of its larger scale. Some tools that could be used in sociology are polls, surveys, statistics, and observing historical patients. Durkheim used these scientific tools in his analysis of suicides in Catholic and Protestant groups. His work was the concept of modern sociology. His first major sociological work was De la division du travail social (1893; The Division of Labour in Society), followed in 1895 by Les Règles de la Méthode Sociologique (The Rules of Sociological Method), the same year in which Durkheim set up the first European department of sociology and become France's first professor of sociology. Durkheim's seminal monograph, Le Suicide (1897), a study of suicide rates in Catholic and Protestant populations, especially pioneered modern social research, serving to distinguish social science from psychology and political philosophy. The following year, in 1898, he established the journal L'Année Sociologique. Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912; The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life) presented a theory of religion, comparing the social and cultural lives of aboriginal and modern societies. (Full article...)
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