THE FALL OF PARIS: June 1940 by Herbert R. Lottman


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Compendious but not compelling story of the weeks between the Nazis' invasion of France and their entry into Paris, by Lottman (Colette, 1990, etc.). Lottman's knowledge of French affairs is impressive, as is his cast of characters, which includes Churchill, PÉtain, Sartre, Beauvoir, Clare Boothe Luce, de Gaulle, A.J. Liebling, Iliya Ehrenburg, and Ambassador William Bullit, FDR's man on the ground. The problem is that these celebrated figures appear in what seems an endless series of cameos embedded in an impressionistic array of short (often very short) unconnected segments. Luminaries appear and reappear, but their initial appearances do not establish them firmly, and the text is not easy to follow. French politicos and generals squabble, position themselves, insult each other, and reveal themselves as the Panzers move closer, but Lottman relates their maneuverings with a detachment that doesn't convey fully the flavor of, say, the traitor PÉtain or the agile and observant Mrs. Luce. There are some great adventures here, though: How physicist FrÉdÉric Joliot-Curie and his associates ran off with the world's supply of heavy water (for use in nuclear research) is one tale that's not lost in the shuffle. The great cliffhanger is whether and when the French government will flee, a question complicated by the lies being told about that flight. But the sheer mass of names and details combines with flat writing to smother the national disaster created by monumental French stupidity (the Maginot line) and corruption (in military spending). Personality-oriented popular history that's well researched but lacking bite.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1992
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: HarperCollins