Fenby (Will China Dominate the 21st Century?, 2014, etc.) investigates France’s attempts to live up to her revolutionary ideals and how she has become a prisoner of her history and its narratives.
The author, well-versed in all matters French, examines politics and governments through all of the conflicts of the past 200 years, and he provides occasional sidebars that offer quick, insightful biographies of the primary players through France’s history. Even though by 1830 there had been multiple regime changes, that period was almost stable compared to what would come after Louis Napoleon. The nephew of the emperor was elected president in 1848, but the disarray of the National Assembly gave him the impetus to stage his own coup. He became Napoleon III in 1852 and ushered in the Second Empire, and he lasted until the war of 1870. The Third Republic’s first president, Adolphe Thiers, declared that a “republic was the form of government that divides us least.” Only one president from that government completed his full term, and France endured through countless different forms of government between the world wars. The Third Republic fell because it failed to resolve 150 years of conflicts and live up to France’s view of itself. The numerous parties and the electorate’s tendency to swing with the economy prove the old saying, “the French wear their hearts on the left, their wallets on the right.” The Fourth Republic featured Philippe Petain’s collaborationist Vichy administration during World War II, and today we have the Fifth Republic, which came to be under the Machiavellian Charles de Gaulle. The nation currently suffers under the inflexible regulations of her labor code and living beyond their means for 40 years thanks to their generous social system. For all the confusion, twisting and turning of politics, student revolts, and peasant uprisings, France has survived, and Fenby dutifully guides us through.
A capable history sure to appeal to all lovers of France.