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Mitterrand: A Study in Ambiguity [Hardcover]

Philip Short
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

14 Nov 2013

Aesthete, sensualist, bookworm, politician of Machiavellian cunning: François Mitterrand was a man of exceptional gifts and exceptional flaws who, during his fourteen years as President, strove to drag his tradition-bound and change-averse country into the modern world.

As a statesman and as a human being, he was the incarnation of the mercurial, contrarian France which Britain and America find so perennially frustrating. He embodied the ambiguities and the contradictions of a nation whose modern identity is founded on a stubborn refusal to fit into the Anglo-American scheme of things. Yet he changed France more profoundly than any of his recent predecessors, arguably including even his great rival, Charles de Gaulle.

During the war he was both the leader of a resistance movement and decorated for services to the collaborationist regime in Vichy. After flirting with the far Right, he entered parliament with the backing of conservatives and the Catholic Church before becoming the undisputed leader of the Left. As President he brought the French Communists into the government the better to destroy them. And all the while he managed to find time for an extraordinarily complicated private life.

This is a human as much as a political biography, and a captivating portrait of a life that mirrored Mitterrand's times.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (14 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847920063
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847920065
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 79,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Short gives an extremely vivid account of the way Mitterrand exercised the office of president" (Jonathan Derbyshire Prospect)

"An excellent new book... The story of the rebuilding of France after the war in an equally embittered and divided republic" (Andrew Adonis New Statesman)

"A compelling read for anyone interested in international power politics" (Richard Davenport-Hines Daily Telegraph)

"[Mitterrand] remains an endlessly fascinating figure, and Philip Short tells the story expertly in this deeply researched and marvellously readable biography" (David A. Bell Guardian)

"A stunningly detailed investigation of a monumental political character" (Robert Collins Sunday Times)

Book Description

A definitive biography of one of the twentieth century's most glamorous, complicated political figures.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MITTERAND LIVES AGAIN! 7 Dec 2013
By Dalgety
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a first class personal and political biography of one of the most significant French and European statesmen of the past hundred years - much of the France we see today and the European Union we see today was moulded for good or ill by Mitterand.Philip Short is extremely knowledgeable about Mitterands background , his complicated private life ,including his relationship with his wife Danielle and his long term mistress Anne Pingeot.
Short also deals with Mitterands extensive literary interests and his complex spiritual beliefs.
The real guts of the book ,however is French and EU politics.We see how Mitterand revived the moribund French Socialist Party ,allied with the Communists and then pushed them aside to take power in 1981 as the first Socialist President of the 5TH Republic.His long term as President is examined and his successes and failures analysed.Short also shows how Mitterands suspicion of a united Germany led Mitterand to believe that the new Germany must be firmly anchored in a united Europe and the best way to do this was with the common currency -the "Euro".
Mitterand gave a higher priority to politics here than to economics.We also see Mitterands relationship with other European leaders such as Schmidt and Kohl in Germany and Mrs. Thatcher in the UK.
Short recounts in detail Mitterands 15 year battle with prostate cancer (which had killed his father).Most of this Mitterand kept secret for nearly all his Presidential term.
Shorts style is elegant and readable and Mitterands seems to wlk alive again through the pages of this book. Really one can ask no more of any biography.Only two small factual errors mar the book very slightly.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive biography - and a very good read 17 Jan 2014
This really is exceptionally well done. I had been intrigued by several good newspaper reviews but am no expert on French politics, so the question for me was: could an intelligent, general reader with no background in the subject tackle what is a massive 600 page biography? I'm pleased to say the answer is a resounding "yes". Philip Short writes very fluently, which carried me through the more challenging passages, and has a good eye for anecdote and pacing a story. The book begins with an account of the Observatory Affair, an apparent assassination attempt on Mitterrand on the streets of Paris, and after that I was gripped.
I don't know how this biography fits into the vast French scholarship on Mitterrand but there is very little of any substance published about him in English. So it is very welcome. It feels a very fair account and the author has persuaded several new sources to talk.
Be warned, though, that it is very detailed, chock-full of minor French political figures and, seemingly, an acronym on every page (there's a helpful glossary of these at the back). After making slow initial progress, I decided to stop looking-up people and acronyms, and instead put my head down and kept reading. That worked well for me as a strategy so might be worth bearing in mind if you pick up the book. Which you certainly should.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I find it difficult to reasonably rate this book. It is clearly well written and is obviously the result of prodigious research and scholarship, particularly of French sources. It is also a very comprehensive review of the life and political career of an important French statesman who was President of France for an unprecedented fourteen years and whose crowning achievements may be listed as abolition of the death penalty and the design and agreement of the Maastricht Treaty of 1991 which established the single currency and set Europe on the road to “ever closer union”. (Many of Mitterrand’s other changes such as nationalisation and alteration of the laws regarding methods of voting were ephemeral and quickly reversed.) The author, Philip Short, weighs up the evidence of Mitterrand’s involvement with the Vichy Government and his opportunistic subsequent association with repatriated POWs and the Resistance movement and, perhaps, gives a rather generous overall appraisal of Mitterrand’s wartime career. Again, the author does not flinch from examining the parallel family life lived by Mitterrand having a wife and children and a long term mistress and illegitimate daughter, and numerous other liaisons although these are generally passed over.
So far, so good, however, we have to plough through 312 pages of the 582 pages of text before we reach Mitterrand’s election as President in May 1981. This, despite the examination of the Vichy years, can make for very tedious reading at times as Mitterrand was essentially a “committee” man whose career seems to have been one of endless meetings and networking which does not make for very interesting reading unless you are a really diehard political analyst.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing 19 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
This is a well researched piece of work that really engages, even though it's rather long. I didn't know much about the subject, save that he'd been President of France, and this book filled all the gaps in my knowledge. Mitterand was a complex, enigmatic character with a strong personality who was centre stage in European politics. His personal life was just as complex and secretive. The author writes with authority and effortlessly succeeds in bringing the reader into the world of Mitterand and murky French politics without labouring the point.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than Blair
Essentially a political biography of a very complicated person and by the time one gets to the end one wonders what on earth was he doing on the left other than trying to build a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Richard
5.0 out of 5 stars biography of President Mitterand
French politics are complicated and it takes an experienced writer like Philip Short to guide one through the various governments in which Mitterand served and the precise... Read more
Published 4 months ago by JOHN MONTGOMERY
5.0 out of 5 stars Some excellent stuff ...
... in this book and I found what I was looking for - a reference to Mitterand's rapid eye movements when being interviewed or at a delicate point in a speech.
Published 4 months ago by D E Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
The book is very well written and readable. It reveals in fascinating detail the course of Mitterand's life, and also provides for the reader an overview of the history of France... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Annie Braddock
4.0 out of 5 stars for the academic and general reader
All the individual names and acronyms are more than I need to know but on the other hand, as someone who only knew of him as President, his story is incredibly interesting.
Published 6 months ago by Avril Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent évocation of a complex character
A well researched, fair minded and informative biography from a refreshing British point of view - reads like a novel but offers a valuable study of the intrincacies of French... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M. Francois Portier
5.0 out of 5 stars Few housemaids in broom cupboards
This is an absolutely orthodox biography of Francois Mitterand. It is completely linear telling of the events of the man's life. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Kartowidjojo
4.0 out of 5 stars Mitterand: A Study in Amiguity; Short
An excellent biography of a complex man. The second world war history parts work best - the latter parts assume at least the fundamentals of French historial context and would... Read more
Published 7 months ago by june harwood
5.0 out of 5 stars magesterial
This is a first class book based both on a wide and deep knowledge of all that has written about Mitterrand and first hand experience of his time as President when the author was... Read more
Published 7 months ago by j.s.pullen
4.0 out of 5 stars Birthday present
Bought for my father in law, he was looking forward to reading this.
personally I wouldn't read it but it's a very well presented book.
Published 7 months ago by Sylvia Stewart
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