The Puzzle of France

Robert Gildea, professor of modern history at Oxford, is the author of some half-dozen volumes dealing with France after 1800 or, in one case, Europe as a whole.  Most are broad studies or learned surveys (the terms are not intended as pejorative), very detailed, usually concentrating on one or more aspects of the picture.  One of these books, Marianne in Chains, which concerns life in France under the German occupation, was awarded the Wolfson Prize for history.  Gildea’s works have appealed to reviewers and readers outside historians’ circles; the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and The New Yorker and The Atlantic, all had praise for Marianne in Chains.

The present study (reprinted from the Penguin edition in Great Britain) displays and draws on Professor Gildea’s vast reading in modern French history and incorporates original reflections and assessments.  The organization combines chronological and topical principles effectively.  General readers need not feel intimidated by the author’s erudition, which enables him to present a broad and authoritative view of France over the period in question.  While the Introduction assumes considerable knowledge, that characteristic can be seen as an invitation to greater familiarity, like the prologue to a play or the opening chapter of a novel, which one understands much better after knowing the whole.


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