The Dreyfus Affair: The Scandal That Tore France in Two

The Dreyfus Affair: The Scandal That Tore France in Two

by Piers Paul Read

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A compelling, new and highly accessible account of one of the most high-profile and influential miscarriages of justice in French history: The Dreyfus Affair.See more details below


A compelling, new and highly accessible account of one of the most high-profile and influential miscarriages of justice in French history: The Dreyfus Affair.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The wrongful 1895 conviction of French-Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus as a German spy was based on fabricated evidence. But though innocent, according to Read, a British writer known for Catholic-themed novels who sees the Dreyfus affair as a defining moment in the history of the Catholic Church, Dreyfus was a less than admirable figure: arrogant, very intelligent, but awkward and abrupt, with no friends at work and several questionable extramarital relationships. Read writes that even Theodor Herzl, who founded modern Zionism reportedly on account of the Dreyfus case, initially believed the evidence showing Dreyfus was guilty. It’s unclear what bearing these facts have on the question of Dreyfus’s innocence or guilt or on the fracture that emerged in France between Dreyfus’s supporters (including Emile Zola and his famous “J’accuse” statement) and his enemies. While absorbing and perceptive in parts, Read’s (The Death of a Pope) effort often feels disjointed and lacks the nuance of Ruth Harris’s and Frederick Brown’s recent books on the Dreyfus affair. Moreover, for unexplained reasons, Read emphasizes the work of some recent historians who dispute the accepted view that anti-Semitism was at the heart of Dreyfus’s conviction. In the end, Read adds little to our understanding of this critical event in French and Jewish history. Photos. Agent: Gillon Aitken (U.K.) (Mar.)
Booklist (starred)

Read has done a masterful job of explaining both what happened and why it happened. [He] offers wonderful portraits of the key figures in the unfolding tragedy, and he strives successfully to explain the motivations, fears, and hatred of both sides. This is a great re-examination of one of the most dramatic and consequential episodes in French history.
B&N Review

Piers Paul Read's fresh and comprehensive take on the scandal sheds new light on Dreyfus's personal life, looks closely at the poor man's unjust exile, and tries to assess just what endowed this incident with its long-lasting fascination.
Library Journal
There are hundreds of books about the saga of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the wealthy Jewish military officer unjustly accused and convicted of selling French military secrets to the Germans in the aftermath of France's ignominious defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. Informed by past scholarship as well as original sources, prolific fiction and nonfiction author Read (Alive) analyzes why the case has had such enduring appeal. Its applications to today are evident, unfolding as it did in the midst of a cultural war over a nation's identity. While anti-Semitism played a part, the question of Dreyfus's guilt also revealed an ideological rift between Right and Left, Catholics and secularists, reactionaries and progressives. L'affaire drew international attention because of the involvement of what we now call prominent "public intellectuals." Novelist Émile Zola became a hero in France for defending Dreyfus. VERDICT Enriched by glimpses into the captain's personal life as well as by descriptions of his ordeal in the French penal colony at Devil's Island, this book is highly recommended to general readers or undergraduates interested in French history, anti-Semitism, or church-state tensions in the modern period. [See Prepub Alert, 9/22/11.]—Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist/historian Read (The Death of a Pope, 2009, etc.) revisits the notorious case that revealed the ugly extent of anti-Semitism in France. The conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus for treason on December 22, 1894 was only the beginning of a 12-year ordeal that divided France and remains one of history's most famous instances of official misconduct and injustice. It ended with the Jewish officer's complete exoneration, but only after he had suffered nearly five years' imprisonment on Devil's Island. Members of the armed forces forged documents and gave false testimony to ensure that his guilt was not questioned, while members of the government looked the other way in the interests of not damaging the public's faith in the army. Read's account, based mostly on secondary sources, adds one new element to this oft-told tale: an effort to explain the motives of the anti-Dreyfusards, many of whom (like the author) were Catholic, as something beyond knee-jerk anti-Semitism. "The Affair is intelligible only if it seen in the context of the ideological struggle between the France of St. Louis and the France of Voltaire," writes the author. True enough, but his attempt to provide that context by detailing the persecution of Catholic priests during the French Revolution and the ongoing anticlericalism of secularists in the Third Republic at times seems uncomfortably close to justifying the misdeeds that condemned an innocent man. It's a matter of tone rather than factual inaccuracy. We hear repeatedly about Dreyfus' aloof manner and the poor impression he made at his several trials, while Read writes of the generals who refused to pursue compelling evidence against the real traitor, "to them the choice was between injustice and disorder." An obvious miscarriage of justice is certainly more understandable when one realizes that the anti-Dreyfusards believed that clearing him would shake the foundations of the state. It does nothing to soften the repulsive impression made by mobs shrieking "Dirty Jew!" as Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted. A brisk, readable retelling with a slightly odd emphasis.

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Bloomsbury USA
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