on 31 August 2009
Cobb conveys vividly and with insight the tensions, internal conflicts, political problems, and (often lethal) dangers associated with resistance activities in wartime France. Even those who have previously studied this important period in modern French history will benefit from reading this book - and for those with little knowledge of the subject it will provide a comprehensive and easily understood overview of complex events, set within a wider political and military framework.
The author's enthusiasm for his subject is reflected in the style of writing, which makes for easy reading.
The book deserves to be widely read. It contains an extensive bibliography, which will be valuable to both serious scholars and general readers.
on 18 June 2009
With all of the justified interest attached to Word War Two it is surprising how few books are devoted to this important topic. At least in English. So the few that are available have to be good and they have to be comprehensive. I have given five stars to Cobb's book for three reasons.
First it is wide ranging but also manages to be detailed and well balanced. Second it is a really good read and draws its strength from ample inclusion of memoirs and reflections of participants. Finally, as with all good books, it is a labour of love.
This is an excellent introduction for those new to the subject. But there is much that will interest readers who have a fuller knowledge of the subject matter. For example it throws new light on the relationship of the Resistance to the Allies on and around D-Day.
I would congratulate the writer on his ability to describe the many faces of the resistance and its internal dynamics - no easy task as so much of it remains covered in secrecy, even today. All serious accounts of the war on the Eastern front now require consideration of the activities of partisans. Cobb has ensured that the same honour must now be afforded to the Resistance in any account of the war in the West.
on 22 August 2010
As with the other reviews here, I agree that this is a well written, easy to understand overview of the French Resistance.
I've studied the basics of WWII in school and read a few books on the war, but this is the first time that I've ever read anything about the Resistance itself. I had no idea just how diverse the movement was - that in fact, it was not a homogenous movement at all.
Prof. Cobb describes the courage of individuals; the attempts to organise; the politics and differences not just amongst the groups in occupied and Vichy France, but with De Gaulle and the Allies as well. There are here true tales of bravery, of heroism, of treason and deceit,of cynical manipulation, and of barbarity and savagery. This book reads like a suspense thriller - once you start, it's hard to put down.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in WWII history, or the study of resistance movements.
As an accompanying entertainment, I recommend the 1969 classic Jean-Pierre Melville film Army of Shadows (L'armée des ombres). This is not a true story, but does encorporate and is enspired by some actual events. Melville himself was apparently in the resistance.
on 9 June 2012
In Resistance, Matthew Cobb provides a broad social and political history of the French resistance movement in France during the Second World War, drawing on extensive archival and interview research. What his analysis demonstrates is that the Resistance was, in fact, many resistances, made up of hundreds of groups and cells working in broad alliances, cross-cut with deep political schisms, clashes of personalities, differences in opinion, tactics and strategies, and answering to different masters. A real strength of the book is that Cobb manages to, on the one hand, contextualise resistance within wider European and global politics and the war, and within what was happening in France with respect to the Vichy regime and the apparatus of Nazi oppression, and on the other, to provide in-depth discussion of particular individuals and groups, and their motivations, aspirations, actions and fate. As such, he provides by both breadth and depth, dispassionate contextualisation and poignant intimacy. It's a powerful combination that leads to a huge amount of information being crammed into a relatively short book without it ever feeling rushed or truncated. In addition, rather than simply describing events as with many historical texts, Cobb provides an explanatory framework, seeking to interpret why certain decisions were undertaken, and he does so from a relatively neutral position, detailing how others have interpreted the same events and why his view concurs or differs. In my view, it's an excellent piece of work, covering a huge amount of ground in a lively, engaging and informative voice. If you want a rounded, synoptic introduction to the various Resistance movements in France, this is a great place to start.
on 18 May 2010
In June 1944 in the French industrial town of Tulle the Germans declared they were going to execute 120 people in a reprisal for a defeat by the resistance. They began hanging them from the balconies and lamp posts of their own town. Having murdered 99 innocent men aged between 17 and 42 they stopped, possibly because they simply ran out of rope.
This sort of chilling anecdote regularly illuminates this fine narrative history of the French Resistance. The book strives to outline the breadth and depth of the French resistance, in the process remembering key figures such as Moulin in their full human complexity and capturing the excitment, horror, heroism and tragedy of this aspect of the struggle against the Nazis.
A central theme of the books is how the heroism of the Resistants was taken advantage of by De Gaulle, who derived the political benefits of the struggle while barely acknowleging the sacrifice of the resistants. Nevertheless, while always clear in his sympathies to the Resistants of both left and right, the author does not shirk from addressing some of the atrocities and excesses of those same people.
The climax of the book is, perhaps inevitably, the liberation of Paris, in many ways an aberation in the Second World War. Elsewhere, including parts of France, there was an almost total failure of the Allies to support the national insurrections against the Nazis, with terrible consequences from Prague to Warsaw.
Overall an excellent introduction to this period of history in all its bloodshed and confusion.
on 6 February 2015
In 2013 the author published a memorable account of the liberation of Paris in August 1944. This earlier book covers the four long years that preceded those eleven dramatic days. The French Resistance is the subject of a vast amount of literature, of all kinds. It’s hard to know where to begin. I would suggest here with Matthew Cobb’s account.
The catastrophe of May 1940, the death of the third Republic, German occupation and the birth of Vichy. The old political formations were swept away. A new term entered the language – collaboration.
Resistance at first fragmented, hesitant and weak. A friend meets a friend for a drink, a third joins them – they put their glasses down and decide they need to “do something”. Just type up a leaflet or scrawl a slogan. A group of young lycee students make a noise on Bastille Day, ruffle feathers. Some are imprisoned in Lyons, one is shot in Lille. Organization improves - secrecy and caution adopted but actions bolder taken. Things are getting tougher for everyone – rationing, forced labour, petty and not so petty humiliations. A big strike in the mines northern France shows it’s not impossible.
So it goes. Hundreds of different groups emerge, are broken, reunite, link up. The invasion of the Soviet Union brings in the experience of the Communists, who find they can work with the people they hated in the 30s. Railway lines are blown up, Nazis assassinated, British pilots smuggled home. In turn the Allies – with the USA in the mix after 41– drop weapons and spies in return for intelligence. De Gaulle is a potent figurehead. Stalingrad. They know they will win now. Sabotage and terrible reprisals. Thinking of what comes after – when it’s over – planning a new France, a better world. D-Day. Insurrection. Paris rises. The Nazis return east.
Cobb gives us a riveting account. The big questions are covered. The failure to protect Jewish people is discussed. The attitude of the Allies, the attitude of De Gaulle. He looks at the divisions within this kaleidoscope of resisters. Sometimes old scores were settled; there were traitors within their ranks; justice was summary and decisive. And of course – did these brave men and women make a difference ?
A final chapter shows how the Resistance became historical “fact” and potent “myth”. What happened to its soul? Did the sharing of fear and sacrifice, of betrayal and triumph, of brotherhood and sisterhood - did it survive or did they all return to the shadows? The author is not an academic historian – a noted zoologist, in fact – but he sifts a huge amount of historiography and memoir, modern analyses, discoveries and debates: notes account for almost half the text.
A central paradox is that for those who survived the struggle was the happiest time of their lives. Matthew Cobb, weaving his account with the threads of individual heroes and heroines, explains why.
* Note the kindle edition does not contain photographs.
on 16 January 2014
This was too stolid a retelling for my tastes. It focused more on the political situation surrounding the French Resistance than the acts of resistance. That might float someone else's boat, but it left me a bit cold. Even when Mr Cobb described the action, it was dull and lacked any tension.
This would be a better book if it was written less as a lecture and more as a series of stories. I realised it's a factual book, but that doesn't mean it has to be dull. Simple things like shorter sentences and using active instead of passive voice would make a huge difference.
I also bumped up against a couple of inaccuracies that jarred for me. Basic things like the author stating the Battle of Britain had not yet begun by 31 July 1940 and wrongly referring to D-Day as Operation Overload instead of Overlord, not once but twice. It made me wonder what else was incorrect. Mr Cobb's habit of repeatedly calling the German army "Nazi soldiers" at the same time as explicitly stating that the rank and file were generally not Nazis, just soldiers following orders also bothered me.
It's not a bad book, but it's not as interesting as a book about this fascinating slice of history should be.
As an aside, I read the Kindle edition and the book itself finishes at 58%. The rest of the space is taken up with the glossary, bibliography, further reading, notes and a list of people and what happened to them. It made the book seem very slow going.
on 3 July 2015
When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Anybody familiar with the film, 'The Man who shot Liberty Valance,' will remember that famous quip.
It could equally apply to the French Resistance. Charting their history from France's humiliating defeat at the hands of the German in 1940 ( a six week campaign that stunned the world) we learn of the total paralysis that struck France, a nation unable to comprehend the disaster that befell it.
As antipathy is replaced by defiance, we learn of the Resistance in its infancy, and how it struggled to get off the ground. In fact, many people considered it a nuisance, pinprick attacks that had no real military impact, but brought crushing retribution from the German occupiers in return.
As the tides of war shifted against Germany, and forced labour acts were met by defiance from the French, the resistance bloomed.
By liberation day in 1944, every man and his dog was claiming resistance membership, much to the annoyance of those who had fought alone, and had been dismissed as fools, for years.
It is at this moment that Cobb earns his salt - separating fact from fiction, myths from reality.
As a primer to a crucial chapter of French history, this book is first class.
on 2 July 2013
I was expecting a somewhat action-filled story of clandestine operations. However this book is rather more political history... in fact after 6 months of picking up/putting down I still haven't finished it. And probably won't. This might be a shame as it may well get more action packed towards DDay. I guess it's not the author's fault that in actual fact the resistance was small in terms of numbers/actions, at least until it seemed the war was going to be won by the allies, somewhat 'naive' (e.g. minutes of meetings, with names, seemed to be frequently kept and then fall into the wrong hands) and riddled with politics. It was intersting to get a view on the relationship between De Gaulle and the resistance(s) and to get a feeling of the fear involved with a population under occupation, well at least the non-Vichy part. So, 3 stars from me...
on 13 April 2014
Over the years there have been very few works of factual literature that have captured my imagination and intelect in the way this book has. Though a work documenting historical events, it is so well researched and written that it reads like the very finest novel. I just could not put it down, often to the point of losing hours of sleep because I just had to know what happened next. If you have any political or military heroes from this period (Roosevelt, Churchill, DeGaulle) then I,m affraid this book will begin to open your eyes as to the self serving perfidity of such men even in these days, its not a phenomenon confined to contempory political and senior military leaders. As to those within the resistance, maquis and a large number of ordinary people in the occupied countries who helped and risked all, their courage and self sacrifice shines like a beacon from the pages and I can only wonder how few of us today would show such bravery in such terrible circumstances. A magnificent book by an inspired author. Very highly recommended.