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on 17 August 2001
This is a substantial survey of the years of the Nazi occupation of France. Although there are some excellent English and American books on this subject or on aspects of it, I have not yet come across anything in English which is as comprehensive.
The autor starts with a section called " Anticipations " which sets the scene by examining some aspects of France between the two world wars. This section ends with an account of the rapid defeat of France in the Spring and Summer of 1940.
The other sections of the book deal with collaboration, the Vichy government, everyday life, the Resistance,and, perhaps the most interesting section, the Liberation and after.
The book is massively well-informed. The author makes references to a huge number of sources: these range from standard history texts through unpublished Ph.D theses to French newspapers published at the time, both those produced by the underground presses and those which openly supported the Vichy régime and the Nazi occupiers.
The book provides some valuable correctives to some of the myths and legend which persist about the Resistance and the Vichy state. He rejects completely the idea that Jean Moulin was a communist sleeper, for example. Julian Jackson finishes his study with an epilogue called " Remembering the Occupation " which shows that the events of 1940 - 1944 are still a subject of serious and sometimes acrimonious discussion.
In just over six hundred pages this book covers a big subject in fascinating detail. It should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in tis period. It deserves to become a classic in its field.
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on 28 June 2011
I can appreciate some of the uncertain comments about this book. It would be a mistake for anyone who knows little of the background to use this as a base for study of this climactic period. Jackson is a historian's historian! He expects readers to know the basic facts, and hopes that his researches will encourage others to look further - and encourages readers to do so!

I know this period pretty well, and was particularly interested because I have a draft novel set in the Vichy period. Some facts, I thought, and background info, would be great. I only received my copy from you a few days ago - brilliant service, as always - and I've only reached page 60, but already I've learned so much! I cannot see this book being superseded for a generation.

It's hard for us who are not French to understand why the issues which Jackson covers remain so significant - I suppose our own British and Irish parallel would be 1690 and the Battle of the Boyne, 400+ years ago! But then and now the issues in Ireland remain reasonably clear cut, this was never the case in France.

Astonishing to read that in the autumn of 1944 - while there were still German soldiers fighting in France, De Gaulle set up a very high powered Cttee to encourage study of all aspects of the period. That Cttee still meets, and publishes reports - and universities have seminars at which historians and those directly involved (few of them now) can debate the issues.

Yes, it's a big book - but it has a lighter side! He tells of of a University conference not many years ago when two veterans of the resistance almost came to blows over what happened in Toulouse in 1944 - remember they must have been at least in their mid 70s! But they were united when a young female historian called for study of the position of women. "Ah yes," was their dismissive response, "They played their part!"

Following this theme, amazing to know the effect of the Establishment's obsession with France's declining birth rate from the 1870's! A plan in the early 20s to give men with many children - women didn't have the vote! - was narrowly defeated in the Senate, and abortion was outlawed as much because of the wish to push up the birth rate as of Catholic opposition.

For us in the UK and Ireland, France is our nearest neighbour. For anyone to really understand France and the French, this book is essential - but not an easy read for those who don't know the basic historical facts.
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on 30 June 2013
This comprehensive account despite its length is an enjoyable read that benefits from the cumulative scholarship of recent years .It gives a balanced indepth view of the workings of the Vichy regime and describes the gradual build up of the home grown Resistance and its fraught relationship with the Gaullist Free French.The author scrutinises the profound dilemmas facing the French intellectuals and the tough choices that divided them.He examines the ambivalent attitudes of the French civil service and formal state agencies in their attempt to promote some autonomy of action and a semblance of legitimacy in the face of German intransigence.He doesn't offer a detailed social history of the occupation period and how it affected the different segments of the population in their daily lives.However in a tangential way by examining the motives of those who threw themselves into either collaboration and denunciation , attentism or joining the " Maquis",the text sheds considerable light on the physical and psychological hardships caused by the ugly daily realities of the German occupation that led to diverse coping mechanisms by individuals or to dramatic shift in attitudes.

It follows the aftermath of the occupation by critically examining the various post war myths propounded by the Gaullists on the one hand and the communists on the other about the reality of the Resistance.The whole period remains as divisive as ever in contemporary France witness the political turmoil resulting from the trials of Klaus Barbie and Maurice Papon.This book offers a great insight into one of the most tragic events in modern French history and goes a long way to explaining not only the left/ right divisions in contemporary France but also the crucial importance for the Franco- German leadership of the European project as the only realistic means to abolish military conflict from the continent,bringing prosperity to its citizens and defending their human rights.One last remark , the reader would have benefited from a "who is who "list of the various historical actors as one becomes overwhelmed with the sheer number of names in the text.
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on 19 November 2015
This magisterial account of France during WW2 isn’t easy going. That’s no criticism of Jackson’s style – on the contrary, this is beautifully written, often witty (about Darlan, ‘some of his predictions have been borne out by history; but for an opportunist, it is fruitless to be right fifty years early’). No, the problem is the sheer complexity of the story: but then, that complexity is the story. For the key message is that the story that France resisted, or that France collaborated, are equally myths, and that the reality was messier and much more complicated.

One’s main impression from this book is that the French love factions: whether in the kaleidoscope of French politics before the war (which make out two party system seem childishly simple), or the vicious infighting within Vichy itself, or the rivalries and cross currents within what we now call the Resistance, but which certainly wasn’t a single movement then. Charting all this is inevitably time consuming and detailed, as you learn to distinguish between the PCF, PPF, PDP, PSF and RNP, to take just a spoonful of the alphabet soup of French politics.
The second impression is continuity – the War years were not (as the post War orthodoxy had it ) ‘outside’ of French history, before and after, brought about by the exceptional stress of defeat and occupation, but very much a continuation of what had been happening in the 1930s, including of course virulent ant-Semitism.

And lastly: ambiguity and fluidity. Full collaboration and full resistance were rare: most people did neither, moved between different modes of thinking and acting, and most people had conflicting attitudes and views: in other words, they were human beings in impossible circumstances.

This is very much a work of historiography as well as history: Jackson charts the way the confusing cross currents at the Liberation were crafted into the myth of the Resistance and how that myth has been eroded and demolished in France - to an extent that might surprise many Britons.

This study seems likely to remain the authoritative account for a long time, along with Paxton 1972 study of Vichy. De Gaulle must be seething is his tomb to see the history of France in this period written by an American and an Englishman!

Of course, it’s easy for Anglo-Saxons to adopt a superior attitude, both to the period itself, and the post War romanticisation of it (though who thinks that, defeated, we would have behaved any better?). That is not Jackson’s style: utterly non-judgemental, he views the cast of his story with Olympian detachment, even the most outrageous fascists, yet not without a kind of compassion for the folly and failures of men. Indeed, he sees himself consciously as ushering in a time when we can look back on all this more objectively, free of political posturing, taboos, and icons. And in the process, perhaps, finally doing justice to these many stories.

Finally, a word of warning - my copy omitted pages 587-618 due to faulty production. Make sure you get the whole thing!
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on 23 July 2002
I studied history but now I'm just looking for straight forward enjoyable narrative history. This is a well researched, well written book. However, I'm finding it very hard to work my way through, and often I've read a whole page without paying any attention to it as it is so dense and detailed. I would recommend this book if you are studying this at university, but if you want some bedside reading, think twice about it. The section on resistance is very good though.
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on 3 December 2001
I have to say that Julian Jackson's book is excellent; quite the best
book on the subject I have ever read. It is immaculately researched,
well written, wide-ranging and more than worth the price the book shops
charge for it. For anyone with an interest in the subject it is a top
one-stop point of reference.
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on 23 May 2013
As someone that grew up watching "Allo, allo" and other movies and series that romanticized life in occupied France, this book was a good eye-opener about the complexities of French society during the war, where several movements struggled for hegemony on both sides while most of the people just tried to survive. In addition to all the political and military action, the author provides also a dense decription of culural life and other aspects of French society during these years. Recommended reading if you are into this topic, but it is not a light book.
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on 16 December 2013
This book shines a light on a vital period of French history and the relentless pressures facing an occupied nation. If France was ever fully untitled before, these years shook the very foundations of that accord. Julian Jackson cleverly reminds us of the legacy of the French Revilution and the deep sores that still remain within some classes. Collaborators, communists, Gaullists and so many more ""ists" confuse and dilute the response to the aggressor terminally.
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on 9 February 2010
Here was a subject that I knew very little about, apart from the high cost in Allied lives to move the occupying Germans out of France, and more importantly how General De Gaulle liberated Paris?
The subject was very well researched and gave insights into the thinking of successive French governments regarding military involvement in the European theatre from the 1900's to the formation of the "Free French State" of Vichy.
The book was detailed and at times "hard-going" and I had to re-read sections to better understand why decisions were taken at French ministerial/presidential level during periods of internal social unrest and European Politics in general,especially with Germany......
This book is a reference to the formation of Vichy and the collaboration that took place between the Vichy Authorities and Third Reich during WW2. It will certainly make you think !!!
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on 1 November 2015
Not light reading, but you couldn't really ask for a better potted history of this era.
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