An authoritative and weighty history of France's Fourth Republic (1946-58) by the former Paris correspondent for the Times of London. By the end of WW II, many French politicians despaired of their country's chronic instability. Since 1814, regimes and governments had come and gone in an endless series of coups and scandals. Although the Third Republic lasted from 1871 to 1940, the only real constant in French government was fractious discord. The Fourth Republic epitomized all this. Its numerous personalities formed and re-formed governments, few of which lasted more than a few months. In 1946, the Communist Party commanded between a quarter and a third of the electorate and virtually took over large sections of recently nationalized industries and the trade union congress. Twelve years later, however, the Communists' power had been broken forever, the violent and intransigent antagonisms of the old order had crumbled, and the Fourth Republic had presided over the greatest single economic leap in French history. Two giant personalities dominate the '50s: de Gaulle, sulking in internal political exile and plotting his glorious return, and Pierre MendÃ‰s-France, briefly prime minister, who saw that the colonial age was over and urged withdrawal from Algeria, only to be ignored. Giles skillfully details this intricate era in which an old European power finally crossed over into the realities of the postwar world of cheap cars, American supremacy, and affordable televisions -- a world in which traditional French gloire was a scarce commodity. The Fourth Republic was the true bridge between the old France and the country we see today. A country of perfumers, vintners, and rebellious militants (at least, by reputation) had turned into a nation of technocrats, car makers, and efficient industrialists. It was a true revolution, even if none of the squabbling politicians who presided over it could claim the glory. Giles's book, at least, shows us how the turmoil related to the true achievement.