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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 January 2012
I got a copy of this book in an oxfam shop for a tenner and was surprised to see that it hasn't yet been officially released. There is nothing on it to suggest it is some sort of review copy so I don't know why it has turned up so early but lucky for me. Nevertheless I still wish to express my dismay at the advertised price of the kindle edition - hopefully this will be reduced to a more reasonable sub £10 price. I should also point out that the kindle price does not affect my review of the book.

Having thoroughly enjoyed The Man on Devil's Island: Alfred Dreyfus and the Affair that Divided France I was intrigued to see if this new book by a long-established author added anything to the mix and as he himself admits - it doesn't. So should you buy this book if you already have Ms Harris's one? I'd say yes. Although there is little new ground broken this is a very informative and more "breezy" read than "Devil's Island", perhaps because there is more concentration on Dreyfuss's eclectic collection of associates than the man himself. That's not to say that Mr Read doesn't cast a sharp eye on things, it's just that I feel he has taken a more "novelistic" approach to the subject than Ms Harris and that is no bad thing. Of the two I still prefer "Devil's Island", but maybe that is because I read it first. If you want to read only one book on the subject I would struggle to nominate one over the other but am happy to recommend both as complimentary to each other. They are both well written accounts of a fantastic story.
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on 10 January 2014
Previously, I had viewed the Dreyfus affair as an example of anti-Semitism and something relevant merely to the late 19th C. France.

The author very successfully shows that it resulted from changes wrought by the French Revolution and that its impact was still present in the Second World War, with the appalling treatment by the Vichy Government of the French Jews. The anti-clerical movement in the early 20th C. was a direct result of it, the Dreyfus affair being blamed on the Catholic Church: Church schools were taken over by the State; religious establishments were closed (some moving to the UK); nursing nuns were banned; promotion in the Army depended on secular connections.

Another key factor was that Dreyfus was so unattractive: arrogant; a loner with no friends; a bad witness at his trials; and a womaniser. Rich and Jewish as well.

This is a remarkable, well-researched book and a must-read for those interested in this period.
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on 29 December 2012
I love Piers Paul Read's erudition. He began THE DREYFUS AFFAIR by going back to the French Revolution, as he went back to Mohammed and the founding of Islam in his THE TEMPLARS. We learn lots of historical tidbits. For example, he discusses duels, an immensely fascinating subject when done by Read, informing us, along the way, that de Lesseps, of Suez Canal fame, married a second time at age 64 and fathered 12 children on his young wife--of course, de Lesseps was French. We learn too that Dreyfus, a married man, had mistresses. The trial and the degradation make one literally sick to the stomach, and the conditions of imprisonment, remaining deplorable even to this day, is one of the shames that France is ever incapable of remediating. One has to force oneself to read through the suffering on Devil's Island, but through it all this incredible man, Dreyfus, never lost faith in his country's final judgment. He was blessed with a wife--qu'il avait pourtant trompé--and with a brother equal to van Gogh's. What is extremely upsetting when one reads of Dreyfus's fight for survival is the knowledge that most of his descendents--most Jews--would eventually be totally exterminated, a reason, among others, why Americans, in their vast majority, believe that present-day Jews must be protected at absolutely all costs. And what to say about Zola: a French god, today lying in the Panthéon, the greatest honor open to a Frenchman. Another hell of a good book on Dreyfus is Jean-Denis Bredin's THE AFFAIR, a book I've read 6 times because the story is so well told and so moving. In fact, I'm awarding it 5 stars to Bredin as well as to Read. (Read's book has more information, but Bredin tells a more fascinating story.) If you're looking for comic relief, after all the disgusting and dehumanizing attacks on Jews (especially well described in Read's book), then I recommend the absolutely wonder THE DREYFUS AFFAIR by Peter Lefcourt. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 January 2014
When the passage of time might be expected to have washed away memories, this is only one of several recent books keeping alive "The Dreyfus Affair" in which a Jewish captain was found guilty of espionage in 1894 at an inept and corrupt court martial. Not only is truth stranger than fiction here, but it exposes the deep rift between on one hand the Catholics, bitter over past persecution by the French revolutionaries, yet still considered too influential in education and the army, and on the other hand the secular republicans, often seen as in league with a "syndicate" of wealthy Jews following their "liberation" by the French National Assembly in 1791.

So keen is the author to set the scene that we do not hear much about Dreyfus until Chapter 5. Although leavened with many fascinating details, such as the twisted sense of honour of the military men who arrested Dreyfus, leaving a gun loaded with a single bullet in reach as a hint for him to "do the right thing", this deeply researched study makes exhausting reading at times. This is due partly to the large number of characters with long complicated names, often in inverse length to their importance, also to the author's inability to resist distracting us with facts about them, even if marginal to the main theme.

1890s Paris is presented as a kind of Ruritania with leading figures swapping mistresses, indulging in duels, and accepting bribes to conceal embarrassing facts like the bankruptcy of the Panama Canal Company. Just as expenses scandals at Westminster are made to seem small beer, the excesses of our media pale into significance compared to the bilious anti-semitic outpourings from the pens of "respected" Catholic journalists. There are fascinating parallels with today: Dreyfus was convicted at one stage by a "dodgy dossier"; the need to protect national security was made a reason for not producing vital evidence which was shown, if at all, to the prosecution but not the defence; those who knew or came to believe that Dreyfus was innocent felt that establishing this was less important than maintaining the reputation of the army, whose senior staff had mistreated him. The recent controversy over the French striker Anelka's use of the "quenelle" or reverse nazi salute favoured by his friend the comedian Dieudonné show that the issues surrounding Dreyfus retain their substance, in a different form.

The books succeeds on both a broad historical and personal level. For the sake of his health and his family, did Dreyfus have any option but to accept a pardon even if it implied admission of guilt? Sadly, this capitulation divided his supporters, some to the extent of becoming estranged from him and each other. The final sad irony is the fate that met his loyal wife after his death: to spend her final years hiding from the Nazis in, of all things, a convent.
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on 29 July 2013
In 1894 a (pretty low-level) piece of espionage was suspected in Paris: someone was apparently passing military material to the Germans. Someone was needed to take the rap, and the choice fell on Alfred Dreyfus. A very circumstantial and fragmentary case was put together against him, involving amateur graphologists and some dirty tricks. Once Dreyfus had been convicted by a court martial the military closed ranks. There could be no other explanation than that Dreyfus was guilty. He was sent to be confined on Devil's Island off the coast of French Guiana, where somehow he survived many privations. Meanwhile the identity of the real spy became known, but the military high command regarded it as a matter of honour not to upset Dreyfus's conviction.

Dreyfus was not everybody's cup of tea: he was ambitious, humourless, stiff and lacking in what today would be called 'people skills'. He was also Jewish. This was a key point in the saga, and one very well brought out in this book. The Dreyfus Affair became a flashpoint for left/right politics, catholic/other religious and social tensions, and military/intellectual attitudes.

All this is very well described. The second court martial in particular is vividly conveyed, as are the relations between Dreyfus and his supporters. There are some less appealing bits - some of the politics is rather wearisome, and there are a lot of obscure family relationships: so-and-so would favour a particular line because he was someone's brother-in-law's cousin - that sort of thing. But the main story is very well done, and this well-written and -sourced book can be recommended.

But it is clear from this why the Jews in France had such a bad time in the Second World War.
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on 15 March 2014
I am familiar with the Dreyfus affair, having studied it during my French Degree. But this book was a great summary of the story, with a writing style that kept the reader engaged. Even if the subject matter is not a familiar one, it reads rather like a quasi-novel, albeit well researched and argued. A good purchase.
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on 19 March 2012
Piers Paul Read gives a very clear picture of France, especially the army, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Very few people in this story come out as heroes. In fact, the victim, Alfred Dreyfus, is difficult to empathise with.
The martinettees in the French army are very well described and the reader gets a feeling of these strutting, smug officers, even when they realise that they are in the wrong, only worrying about their futures.
A complex subject is dealt with very clearly and the book is a very good history lesson as well as a cracking good read.
I thoroughly recommend this book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 January 2014
When the passage of time might be expected to have washed away memories, this is only one of several recent books keeping alive "The Dreyfus Affair" in which a Jewish captain was found guilty of espionage in 1894 at an inept and corrupt court martial. Not only is truth stranger than fiction here, but it exposes the deep rift between on one hand the Catholics, bitter over past persecution by the French revolutionaries, yet still considered too influential in education and the army, and on the other hand the secular republicans, often seen as in league with a "syndicate" of wealthy Jews following their "liberation" by the French National Assembly in 1791.

So keen is the author to set the scene that we do not hear much about Dreyfus until Chapter 5. Although leavened with many fascinating details, such as the twisted sense of honour of the military men who arrested Dreyfus, leaving a gun loaded with a single bullet in reach as a hint for him to "do the right thing", this deeply researched study makes exhausting reading at times. This is due partly to the large number of characters with long complicated names, often in inverse length to their importance, also to the author's inability to resist distracting us with facts about them, even if marginal to the main theme.

1890s Paris is presented as a kind of Ruritania with leading figures swapping mistresses, indulging in duels, and accepting bribes to conceal embarrassing facts like the bankruptcy of the Panama Canal Company. Just as expenses scandals at Westminster are made to seem small beer, the excesses of our media pale into significance compared to the bilious anti-semitic outpourings from the pens of "respected" Catholic journalists. There are fascinating parallels with today: Dreyfus was convicted at one stage by a "dodgy dossier"; the need to protect national security was made a reason for not producing vital evidence which was shown, if at all, to the prosecution but not the defence; those who knew or came to believe that Dreyfus was innocent felt that establishing this was less important than maintaining the reputation of the army, whose senior staff had mistreated him. The recent controversy over the French striker Anelka's use of the "quenelle" or reverse nazi salute favoured by his friend the comedian Dieudonné show that the issues surrounding Dreyfus retain their substance, in a different form.

The books succeeds on both a broad historical and personal level. For the sake of his health and his family, did Dreyfus have any option but to accept a pardon even if it implied admission of guilt? Sadly, this capitulation divided his supporters, some to the extent of becoming estranged from him and each other. The final sad irony is the fate that met his loyal wife after his death: to spend her final years hiding from the Nazis in, of all things, a convent.
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on 13 January 2014
I read this book to reacquaint myself with the facts of the Drefus Affair after reading "An Officer and a Spy" by Robert Harris. This is a good book, which thoroughly examines the context of the third republic, in particular the anti-clerical and catholic camps. Once onto the affair itself the book reads a bit like a thriller, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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on 5 July 2015
I read this book because “The Dreyfus Affair” is one of those historic events that I knew of but not about. The author fills in the detail with well-researched history combined with fascinating insight into the characters at the heart of events. The people and their actions illustrate all that is best and worst in human nature. We have the wife of Dreyfus, mid-20s with two children, remaining loyal and dignified in the midst of humiliation and disgrace. The brother of Dreyfus, laying aside all else to dedicate himself to clearing the name of his sibling. Those in authority who sacrificed a man for their reputation or that of their country. Others in authority who sacrificed their reputation to save that same man from an unjust fate. The great and the good lining up on each side as “man” became “cause”. Dreyfus himself, a rather unsympathetic character, holding a stubborn faith in the system that condemned him unjustly.

This account is thorough but never lacks pace as it follows the twists and turns of the affair. I also appreciated the broader political and social context in which the author places the events. The centralised French bureaucratic system is held up for scrutiny with its defined processes and frightening, grinding machinery complemented by an openness to corruption through an inner circle of the powerful. At the same time there are even brief moments of humorous irony, as for example when Dreyfus’s brother draws attention to his cause by suggesting his brother may have escaped Devil’s Island and unwittingly leads to a higher fence being built around his cabin, cutting out his view of the sea, one of his only comforts.

This book provides the detail needed to grasp the core of the historical events but does so using a narrative style that leaves the reader feeling the agonising frustration of injustice perpetrated by dishonest men. Ultimately, one sees that the bravery and sacrifice of a few can overthrow even the most powerful of corrupt institutions but this book leaves us in no doubt of the associated human cost.
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