Le Roy Ladurie’s fascination with what he referred to in his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France in 1973 as the ‘immobile’ history of France from the late 14th to the early 18th century sprang partly from the contrast it presented with the trente glorieuses. His own youth had been spent in the conservative, Catholic milieu of rural Normandy where four of his twenty aunts and uncles belonged to religious orders and a pre-Voltairean version of the 18th century seemed, as he put it, ‘present in every haystack’. He had hardly set foot outside Normandy until he fled the German advance in 1940 with his mother and siblings. Parts of his childhood world were blown apart. Caen, a ‘Balzacian’ town when he went to school there, was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944 and rebuilt in concrete in the 1950s and 1960s.