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Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century Paperback – June 21, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 572 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312572980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312572983
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #290,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harris (Lourdes) revisits that notorious miscarriage of justice, the Dreyfus affair. Alfred Dreyfus, a dedicated Jewish French army captain was convicted of spying for Germany based on flimsy and fabricated evidence, and sentenced in 1895 to life on remote Devil's Island. Utilizing private correspondence and archives, Harris trains her gaze on several key players: Lucie Dreyfus, who changed from modest wife and devoted mother into an unremitting fighter for her husband's release; Dreyfus's chief polemicist, EÌümile Zola, charged with libel for his confrontational writings during the affair, was equally reckless (in Harris's word), creating a secret, second family with his maid; and Col. Georges Picquart, who while in charge of the Dreyfus investigation, discovered the real culprit. Despite his dislike of Jews, Picquart defied his superiors to free Dreyfus; for his efforts, he was himself imprisoned on trumped-up charges. While detailing how many on the political and religious right embraced anti-Semitism as a nationalist unifying passion, Harris also demonstrates that the Dreyfusards were flawed men and women who often overcame prejudices and fears to battle the conspirators against Dreyfus. This well-researched, and nuanced book is an engrossing account, the second this year after Frederick Brown's For the Soul of France. 68 b&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

It is just over a century since the final exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus, after “L'affaire Dreyfus” convulsed France for a dozen years. Yet historical analysis and re-examination continues. Of course, no serious historians question Dreyfus' innocence, but the significance of various elements of the affair remains fertile ground for historical debate. Oxford fellow Harris' recounting of the case from inception to conclusion is comprehensive and offers some original and provocative insights. The conventional view that the affair pitted assorted reactionaries and anti-Semites against a coalition of liberals and progressives is rejected as simplistic. Rather, both the defenders and attackers of Dreyfus were motivated by a complex series of emotions and political stances, including nationalism, religion, republicanism, and nostalgia for a France that never existed. Much like the Rosenberg case in the U.S., the guilt or innocence of Dreyfus became almost irrelevant to the causes he symbolized. This is a well-written and well-researched analysis of a great miscarriage of justice. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It's detailed, but a good read.
Barbara S. Burstin
Historians of the 19th Century have the letters of their subjects to study and try to make some sense of how their personal thoughts drove the events of the time.
Gail Denber
I think it's because everybody thinks he knows the story, so who needs another book.
Jack Rice

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on June 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ruth Harris has written one of most comprehensive and intriguing books about one of the best known episodes in the annals of France:The Dreyfus affair.In 1894,an officer in the French army,Captain Alfred Dreyfus,who was also a Jew,was sent to the Devil's Island,after being wrongfully convicted of spying for the Germans.He was sentenced to life imprisonment and stripped of his military rank.All of this happened after a torn-up note containing confidential military information had accidentally been found by a cleaning lady in a wastepaper basket at the German embassy.As the family of Dreyfus despaired,help came from an unexpected quarter.It was Colonel Georges Picquart,a newly promoted intelligence officer,who discovered that the real spy was one Walsin Esterhazy,"a womanizer, a gambler and speculator.However,when Picquart attempted to convince his superiors that they had made a mistake,they set out to silence him and had him even imprisoned on charges of divulging military secrets and of forging documents".(page 2)For a period of more than four years Dreyfus was languishing on the Island,sometimes shackled to his bed in sweltering heat,enclosed in a palisade so he could see nothing but the sky.A diet of scraps and rancid pork left him emaciated,his teeth rotted in his mouth and he all but lost the power of speech.He was not expected to last for long.His correspondence was heavily censored,and after he was brought back to France for retrial in 1899 he was not even aware of the campaign to clear his name-a campaign which had polarized the French nation during those times.There were two groups involved:the Dreyfusards and the anti-Dreyfusards.On July,1906,he was finally rehabilitated.He was awarded the highest military citation,readmitted to the army and died in 1935.Read more ›
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Gail Denber on September 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In France in the last days of the 19th Century, there were 2 kinds of people: Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards. There apparently was no neutrality. Within these groups there was plenty of diversity. There were Dreyfusards who wished to secure the freedom and restore the honor of a good man who was the victim of a disgusting miscarriage of justice and there were those who primarily wanted to redirect a shaky democracy and used Alfred Dreyfus as their poster-boy. Among the anti-Drefusards were a large and vocal faction of rabid anti-Semites, who had their own clubs and publications, and there were those who were merely patriotic, who never thought the Revolution was a good idea, ( would we call them "neo-cons"?) who wanted, at the expense of a man's life, to preserve the "honor" of the army that wrongly and egregiously convicted him. Twice.

At the start of this engaging and original history of the period, Harris lays out the skeleton of the events that precipitated this factionalization of French society and she provides a more detailed chronology at the end. After more than 100 years, they are no longer in dispute. What makes this book worth reading and what made it worth writing, is the details of how they could happen. If the devil is in the details, he is also in the hearts of men; Harris makes clear this scandal, which polarized a nation and nearly brought down a government, was all about emotion.

Fin de seicle French polititians, salonierres, journalists, military officers, clerics and philosophers are creatures so foreign to my existence that they may as well be insects stuck in amber.
Read more ›
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jack Rice on July 30, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm amazed that there are so few reviews for this fascinating book. I think it's because everybody thinks he knows the story, so who needs another book. But do we really know the story?

What's puzzled me over the years is how polarizing "The Affair" has been for the French. An innocent officer was sent to Devil's Island by high-ranking scoundrels who knew he was innocent but who ordered up a guilty verdict, concocting and suppressing evidence, suborning perjury and silencing witnesses, in not one but three sham trials. The motives of the perpetrators were based on careerism, class, anti-Semitism and rank stupidity and incompetence. It is they who belonged on Devil's Island. This is what the evidence shows. So, why the continuing controversy?

What author Ruth Harris shows is that for the "Dreyfusards" and "anti-Dreyfusards," Dreyfus the man had become subordinated to Dreyfus "The Affair," where evidence was beside the point. The man was about guilt or innocence, but The Affair was about identity politics. The two sides just didn't like each other and used The Affair to justify their animosity.

Harris's book, then, is an examination not only of what happened to Dreyfus but what drove The Affair. The great contribution Harris makes is the relevance of her approach to today's politics. Republicans and Democrats have much in common, but their differences -- particularly personality and class -- make them behave as polar opposites, who don't just disagree with each other but despise each other. One can even hear echos of Dreyfus in the rhetoric surrounding the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair. Harris makes the Dreyfus affair a case study of what Freud called, "the narcissism of marginal difference," and for me it's been a revelation.
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