Weber (European History/UCLA; France, Fin de Siäcle, 1986; etc.) skillfully paints a somber portrait of France in decline. War and the threat of war shaped France in the 1930s. Though the nominal victor of WW I, France never recovered from losing over a million dead and over three million wounded. About the inert Depression-era French economy, Weber reflects that ``the spirit of Thomas Malthus ruled over the land.'' With a less dynamic economy and a significantly lower rate of postwar population growth than Germany, Italy, or Britain, France produced a succession of leaders, such as Edouard Daladier and LÇon Blum, who reflected the country itself: conservative, backward-looking, irresolute, and determined to avoid another war with Germany at all costs. Weber notes the familiar diplomatic, economic, and political indicators of France's decline in the 1930s—its fractured politics, its failure to oppose a resurgent Germany, the repudiation of its American debt from WW I, its fatal pacifism in the face of German aggression. But he focuses primarily on social and cultural history. A significant drop in the servant population, greater urbanization of what had been a predominantly agrarian economy, the falling value of the franc, and labor legislation all had transformative effects. Nonetheless, some things changed very slowly. The emancipation of women, Weber notes, was ``slow, patchy, and indirect,'' with women receiving the ability to take legal action without their husbands' consent only in 1938, and the vote in 1945. With France's decline as a great power, people became preoccupied with sports, films, and religion (Weber describes the religious revival of the period as the ``Indian Summer'' of French Catholicism); xenophobia and anti-Semitism became more pronounced as economic conditions worsened. In the end, the hollow years gave way to a war for which France was unprepared, and to years of occupation. An eloquent and thoughtful look at France in the interwar period.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1994

ISBN: 0-393-03671-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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