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Summary

In this revisionist account of France's crushing defeat in 1940, Philip Nord argues that the nation's downfall has long been misunderstood. Nord assesses France's diplomatic and military preparations for war with Germany, its conduct of the war once the fighting began, and the political consequences of defeat on the battlefield. Ultimately, he finds that the longstanding view that France's collapse was due to military unpreparedness and a decadent national character is unsupported by fact.

Nord reveals that the Third Republic was no worse prepared and its military failings no less dramatic than those of the United States and other Allies in the early years of the war. What was unique in France was the betrayal by military and political elites who abandoned the Republic and supported the reprehensible Vichy takeover. Why then have historians and politicians ever since interpreted the defeat as a judgment on the nation as a whole? Why has the focus been on the failings of the Third Republic and not on elite betrayal? The author examines these questions in a fascinating conclusion.

©2015 Philip Nord (P)2015 Tantor

Critic reviews

"A well thought-out and well-presented book on a thorny problem of European history." (Robert Gildea, author of Marianne in Chains)

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  • Mr
  • 13-10-18

Good book, somewhat misleading subtitle.

In this slim volume, Nord contends that in 1940, the French suffered a simple, operational, military defeat. That they were neither "decadent" nor poorly prepared, and that it was France's lack of geographical barriers rather than any inherent weakness, that made it unable to withstand the same defeats suffered by other large allied nations.

The course of military events is however, dealt with quite briefly in favor of the subject that is obviously the author's real interest - the maneuverings in French politics immediately following the defeat, that resulted in the abolition of the 3rd Republic and establishment of the Vichy regime. The book isn't really about "Defending the Republic", but about the political actors (a strange alliance of appeasers, pacifists and generals) who abolished it for their own reasons.

It's a compelling story, that is often neglected in English language histories, and I enjoyed hearing it. But I would have preferred a longer and more comprehensive work that did not skip over so much ground.

The narrator isn't terrible, but I found him a little slow and monotone.

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  • Keanu Heydari
  • 11-02-16

A much needed revision to oversimplified, partisan historiography

Nord's prose is worthy of congratulation alone. Were it not also for his piercing analysis, one could end the review here. For the sake of the interested reader, it's my pleasure to add that Nord handles the Laval administration and the Reynaud ministry with a balanced, nuanced deconstructive hammer. He demystifies and clarifies how exactly Paris fell in 1940. Gently and respectfully pushing back against Bloch's decline-ist narrative, Nord paints a picture of ruthless fascists taking advantage of a faltering Third Republic.

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