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In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870—71, a defeated and humiliated France split into cultural factions that ranged from those who embraced modernity to those who championed the restoration of throne and altar. This polarization–to which such iconic monuments as the Sacre-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower bear witness–intensified with a succession of grave events over the following decades: the crash of an investment bank founded to advance Catholic interests; the failure of the Panama Canal Company; the fraudulent charge of treason brought against a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, which resulted in a civil war between his zealous supporters and fanatical antagonists.
In this brilliant reconsideration of what fostered the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in twentieth-century Europe, Frederick Brown chronicles the intense struggle for the soul of a nation, and shows how France’s deep fractures led to its surrender to Hitler’s armies in 1940.
“Vivacious and fluid. . . . Visitors to the City of Light, and Parisians themselves, may never look at the Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Cœur quite the same way again. . . . Brown’s storytelling is vivacious and fluid, but he also keeps a firm hand on his chronicle, bringing order and perspective to these often chaotic times. . . . For the Soul of France offers a great deal of instruction and many narrative pleasures (even for a French reader).”–The Wall Street Journal
“A wonderful book. . . . Learned. . . . Vivid. . . . Consistently instructive.”–The New Republic
“Brown has the rare ability to write reliable and well-researched history for a broad nonspecialized public. Francophiles, in particular, will love this book.”–The New York Times Book Review
“A lucid, piercing portrait. . . . These events still resonate, and Brown shows they stand as powerfully as any structure in iron or stone.”–Newsday
“Terrific. . . . A brilliant study.”–The Boston Globe
“For the Soul of France is masterful history, brilliantly researched, and hard to put down.”–Henry A. Kissinger
“[A] sweeping reevaluation of late-nineteenth-century France. . . . In less than 300 pages, Brown brings together a host of characters who have themselves spawned thick biographies–Napoléon III, Gustave Eiffel, Alfred Dreyfus–along with others less known today outside France.”–Harper’s
“More than a century on, the Dreyfus affair still holds important lessons about freedom, notably the fragility of basic liberties when national security is invoked. It is also a reminder of the deep roots of anti-Semitism, in France and beyond.”–The Economist
“A fine work. . . . Brisk and readable. . . . Brown is a historian who believes that things actually happened in history, and he has one interest: telling the story. . . . Truly worth reading.”–The Forward
“The search for national identity reverberates through [For the Soul of France] so compellingly that even hardened Francophobes may appreciate the passion and prejudices inflaming a country whose contradictory instincts for grandeur and provincialism seemed limitless during the 19th century.”–Newark Star-Ledger
“Brown, a distinguished cultural historian, gives us the story in riveting detail, moving an interesting human cavalcade across the precariously turbulent political stage that was fin de siècle France.”–History Book Club
“Nobody outside France writes better about French history and culture in the late 19th Century than Frederick Brown. . . . For the Soul of France is an epic piece of history on a grand scale, full of deeply disturbing resemblances to our own.”–Michael Korda, author of With Wings Like Eagles
“After Napoleon III fell in 1870, the stakes were high in France: The form of government, the church’s role, the structure of the economy were all in flux. Brown lays it all out masterfully.”–The Montreal Gazette
“A very good example of cultural history. It suggests that even in the heyday of bourgeois materialism, the most important, and often decisive, matter was what large groups of people preferred to think and believe. His episodes are well-selected, and their developments well-written.”–John Lukacs, author of Budapest 1900