Caught between the memory of a brutal war won at frightful cost and fear of another cataclysm, France in the 1930s suffered a failure of nerve. Brilliantly chronicled here by a master historian, this fateful era could neither solve insoluble problems nor escape from them.
This dark, dense chronicle examines France's national psyche during the 1930s when, still traumatized by WWI, the nation faced looming German aggressiveness. Economic depression, a rising tide of xenophobia and anti-Semitism and a paralysis of leadership, exemplified by the appeasement of the Nazis, brought the country to a point in 1939 when it seemed virtually unwilling to defend itself. Weber (A Modern History of Europe) dramatizes the political and diplomatic indecision, especially in the military, with its declining morale and expectation of catastrophe. Although France possessed more tanks and ground troops than Germany, its army suffered an ignominious defeat in the blitzkrieg of May-June 1940. A compelling examination of a demoralized nation. Photos. (Nov.)
Weber (history, UCLA) is the author of numerous monographs on French history (France: Fin de Sicle, Belknap Pr: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1986) and narrator of a highly acclaimed PBS video series on the history of Western civilization. He brings a wealth of erudition and insight to this narrative, in which no aspect of French society in the troubled Thirties is left untouched. Although paying the obligatory attention to politics and foreign affairs, this book is even more important for uncovering a host of societal and demographic details-clothing styles, roles and attitudes of women, modes of leisure, changes within the Catholic Church, and the state of intellectual life-that provide a fascinating and absorbing portrait of this society. Weber concludes that France, led by an assortment of ineffective politicians, exhibited a "morose" and clearly identifiable mood in these years, a "nightmare of fear," and a sense of vulnerability. While intended for scholars, this magnificent narrative should also be enjoyed by general readers interested in contemporary history.-Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J.