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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ...and it works as a memoir, too!
Arthur Koestler's memoir about his experiences during the beginning of the Second World War is interesting from a historical standpoint. Koestler finds himself all over Europe, in and out of internment camps, encountering people from all over of all classes. Koestler's experience is interesting because the way he was treated was not the norm, it was the product of his...
Published on August 12, 2002

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13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Path of Least Resistance?
This is the history that France would rather forget, despite claims that the account was part fictionalised it nonetheless reveals disturbing tendencies in pre-German invasion France that were to aid the Nazi occupation and also create the Vichy regime. Anti-Communist and anti-Jewish tendencies, he claims were spreading through France at the time, and leading some people...
Published on September 15, 2001 by R Bell


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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ...and it works as a memoir, too!, August 12, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Paperback)
Arthur Koestler's memoir about his experiences during the beginning of the Second World War is interesting from a historical standpoint. Koestler finds himself all over Europe, in and out of internment camps, encountering people from all over of all classes. Koestler's experience is interesting because the way he was treated was not the norm, it was the product of his unique background and situation, but it still represents the wide range of possible experiences during this historically uncertain time. The level that it succeeds on most, however, is a personal one. Koestler is a damn witty, talented author, who knows how to tell a story. Despite the subject matter he finds much work with. One can't help but smile at he way he describes the inbreed locals of a small village or the way he personifies his car. As interesting as the historical and stylistic elements is his description of himself (clearly a flawed man with a drinking problem) and his unlikely relationship with a younger woman he wasn't meant to end up with. It may be a comparatively obscure piece of literature, but it's certainly one worth reading.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The true story of French concentration camps, October 7, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Paperback)
The true story of Arthur Koestlers experiences in France immediately before the invasion by Germany. This is a shocking story of a France that we do not hear about in contemporary accounts of WWII. With Germany poised to invade France and nothing that the French could do to stop them the French government decided to appease their new rulers by arresting all refugees from Nazi Europe and putting them into French Concentration camps. Arthur Koester ,a political writer, was one of these refugees that thought he was safe in Paris is a country that was still free of Nazi rule but was soon to find otherwise. His story tells of the French camps where conditions were worse than anything the Nazis were doing and the only way out was bribery and friends in high places. Once released he was still unable to leave the country and the story takes another twist when he discovers that the only way to escape is to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, first of all spending a year in the Italian mountains where his unit was
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What I said for the paperback!, March 8, 2006
By 
This review is from: Scum of the earth,
ONE of the greatest books to come out of the second world war now carries a tragic irony. The reverberations of its author's suicide in 1983 spill over into one's reading of it.

In 1939, Koestler was living in the South of France working on Darkness At Noon. Moving to Paris to enlist with the Allies he was, along with thousands of others who had fought Fascism around Europe, imprisoned as an undesirable alien. Life in the camp, which German emigres testified to being comparable with Dachau, is illuminated by a writer whose humanity, optimism and intelligence shine on every page.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The France-1940 as a true image of the World-2013., September 14, 2013
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This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Kindle Edition)
An excellent book – I can recommend it as probably the most frightful one among other honest mirrors of the XX century. No doubts, Orwell is quite frightful too, but, at least, his world is just a would-be fantasy, while "Scum of the Earth" is reality itself. And it wouldn't be that hopeless reality if it would be limited to France-1940 only (though a loathsome picture of even one ex-great nation's total final corruption is tragic enough, of course). Unfortunately, the reality-2013 is much more sinister, because the past seven decades show that the same cancer of moral degradation is eagerly devouring now all the Western world, from the USA to Australia. Koestler's quote from Maeterlinck’s "Life of the Termites" is so eloquent in showing the present-day utter luck of freedom's support (to tell nothing about the elementary human dignity's support) anywhere, be it state institutes, media, church or family bonds: "…A planter enters his house after an absence of five or six days; everything is apparently as he left it, nothing seems changed. He sits down on a chair, it collapses. He grabs the table to regain his balance, it falls to pieces under his hands. He leans against the central pillar, which gives way and brings down the roof in a cloud of dust". Exactly so – there is no more firm support around us, indeed! The termites have turned into dust all the former defenses of the free society, and (that's probably the worst thing of them all) it's we, it's we ourselves and nobody else, who permitted this overwhelming rot, generously inviting all kinds of termites for a free lunch. Mr. Koestler's book was ridiculed or silenced by termites-friends when his honest narrative of France's collapse could still be fruitfully used as a wise lesson. Now it's only the 100%-true prophecy - but, naturally, it doesn't make "Scum of the Earth" less precious even a tiny bit. The book is really magnificent! Rostislav, Saint-Petersburg, Russia.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Many Lives in Prison, April 4, 2000
There are so many people in our society who do things for their own pleasure which are likely to get them thrown into prison that it is difficult for me to picture a prison in which most of the prisoners have a long history of being locked up because of their political activities. The Epilogue of this book, in the form of a letter to Colonel Blimp, complains of an economic order which "reminds one of a certain goose which, instead of golden eggs, lays a time bomb every day and then settles down to hatch it. But all this need not disturb you." (p. 250) The section called Purgatory starts on October 2nd, 1939, with Koestler getting out of a bathtub and wrapping himself in a towel to answer the door, only to have the police ask him, "Have you a gun on you?" (p. 63) The book is full of details, and the pages that are most chilling for me are 94 and 95. "We were two thousand in the camp of Vernet. The average time each of us had spent in jail or internment was eighteen months. . . . If somebody screamed at night in our barrack, we knew he had dreamt of the Gestapo." When Koestler wrote this book, "of its 2000 prisoners only about fifty have been released; . . . and the camp is under the control of the Gestapo."
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars France was defeated..., July 16, 2009
This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Paperback)
before the war started. Arthur Koestler's book Scum of the Earth is a readable memoir of his adventures in France just before, and at the beginning of, the Second World War. France is described by the author as "wine and bread" country with little industrialization and a desire to be left alone after going though the anguish of the Franco-Prussian War and World War I. As an anti-Nazi, he was imprisioned by the Franch at the concentration camp as a political prisoner at Verant and suffered various deprivations.

His philosophical outlook is revealed to be one of democratic socialism which he believed was a balance between plutocratic capitalism and communism. The book that I read (an old Macmillian edition) was a short 280 pages long and was easily readable. There are no illustrations in the book, but his written descriptions more than made up for this deficiency. Some of his viewpoints on government I have some disagreement with (being a libertarian), but I give five stars for this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hollowed out country, waiting to collapse, March 7, 2013
By 
keetmom (South Africa) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Paperback)
Scum of the Earth is a powerful memoir documenting the extraordinary events in France in the first year of WWII and a devastating critique of a nation on the point of collapse. Arthur Koestler's experiences read like a novel by Kafka and it is a wonder that the man retained his sanity (and his life) through months of extreme treatment by French officialdom, at times uncaring and confused and then downright brutal and sadistic. The fall of France after only a few weeks of fighting has been the topic of many books, but if you really want to understand how rotten the society had become, you need only read this moving and well written account. It is part political treatise, part raw survival diary and part adventure story that would be categorized as surrealistic fantasy were it not all true.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Variety, August 24, 2001
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This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Paperback)
The book itself is interseting, beceause it describes how many situations a man can experience during wartime. How the idyllic countryside life changes into the terror of a concentration camp, and then into a desperate fight against the bureacracy. I am pleased to recommend this book to everybody, who is not only interested in cheap thrillers.......
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The shameful behavior of France's leaders before and during the Fall of France, August 25, 2013
By 
Jordan Bell (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Paperback)
Many writers, organizers and politicians who had fought the fascist parties' coming to power had come to France by 1939. Many of these were Germans, Austrians or Czech, and going back to the country of their passport would likely have meant being executed. These people had nothing to lose and many offered to join the French army to fight the Germans. Instead the French military and civil leadership interned them in camps in which they were intentionally starved and made to live in squalid unheated rooms with hundreds of men and no blankets. By comparison, once Koestler had escaped to Bristol, he was arrested for not having an entry permit and kept in jail for six weeks, but was then released and allowed to volunteer with an engineering corps. Koestler says the following about Vernet, where he was kept for around three months:

"But it must also be remembered that as regards food, accomodation and hygiene, Vernet was below even the level of Nazi concentration camps. We had some thirty men in Section C who had previously been interned in various German camps, including the worst reputed, Dachau, Oranienburg, and Wolfsbüttel, and they were experts on these matters. I myself could confirm that the food in Franco's prison had been far more substantial and nourishing...." (This is talking about the state of 1939 German camps, which later may have become much worse.)

All the French people in leadership roles that Koestler describes seem to have wanted to cover their asses. If the most recent order had said to send legionnaires to X, and by now X had been captured by the Germans, an officer in charge would instruct legionnaires to go to X rather than sending them to the nearest Legion office in unoccupied France. This is a trait that most people have, including most leaders (why should I help you if I could get in any trouble for it?), but of which the French seem to have had an especially strong case.

During a terrible event like a war, the following type of shoddy reasoning comes naturally to some people: "Since our soldiers at the front are suffering, any complaint about the conditions in this camp are frivolous." This reasoning only makes sense if making conditions in the camp better makes conditions at the front worse. A typical migraine sufferer doesn't want everyone else to have migraines. If suffering can be avoided with small expense, for example by heating the cabins where prisoners sleep, this little humanity is not only right but would reduce frostbite, let the prisoners sleep better, and result in better work. But it is easy for a lieutenant to think that by pouring boiling water on the feet of a prisoner he is somehow indirectly helping the soldiers at the front.

I've made it seem like the French were all bad. Talking about a company of French soldiers who had fought a German tank column, Koestler says "Had they not been betrayed by the General Staff, they would have put up a great show. Where the officers were good, the men fought 'like savages'; but only two out of ten officers were good." Koestler quotes a French lieutenant as saying "But suppose I didn't meet one officer- from colonel upwards I mean- whose heart was not with the Croix de Feu. Suppose some of the gentlemen in the General Staff preferred Hitler to Blum?"

About the Maginot Line: "For the same money and effort France could have built a modern, mechanised, and three-dimensional army. Why did the warnings of de Gaulle and Reynaud go unheard, who from the early thirties onwards denounced the obsoleteness of the linear fortification system and advocated the system of highly motorised, mobile, relatively self-sufficient and independent units, with an overwhelming air force? The superficial answer is: because the arteriosclerotic French General Staff did not want to be bothered with any new-fangled ideas. But they could only get away with it because the Chinese Wall was indeed the projection of the nation's deep-felt wish to be left alone. De Gaulle's conception of an offensive army might have saved the peace by giving the Polish and Czech alliance a real meaning. But at that stage France no longer wanted to save the peace by any constructive effort; it wanted to be left in peace- and this psychological nuance made all the difference, and in fact sealed her fate."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read - highly recommended, May 5, 2014
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This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Kindle Edition)
Outstanding. And while certainly a good book from a history perspective, also has echoes that you can hear today. Highly recommended for students of history, and for anyone interested in how people react in times of crisis.
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Scum of the Earth
Scum of the Earth by Arthur Koestler (Paperback - February 28, 2007)
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