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Strange Defeat

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393319118
ISBN-10: 0393319113
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Much has been, and will be, written in explanation of the defeat of France in 1940, but it seems unlikely that the truth of the matter will ever be more accurately and more vividly presented than in this statement of evidence. -- P. J. Philip, New York Times Book Review

The most wisdom-packed commentary on the problem set [before] all intelligent and patriotic Frenchmen by the events of 1940. -- D. W. Brogan, Spectator

About the Author

Marc Bloch was a French historian who cofounded the Annales School of French social history. He was captured and shot by the Gestapo in 1944 for his work with the French Resistance.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (July 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319118
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I keep returning to this book as among the best I've ever read. It is both good reading as military history and failure analysis: no one has been able to write so deftly and originally about why France fell so swiftly in 1940. Unlike other military history books, this one is not heavy on maps nor units nor armament, merely a very incisive and friendly discussion of why France fells so quickly.
Having served during WW1 and serving during WW2, Marc Bloch points to a litany of reasons why the French army, which was better equipted than the Germans, collapsed so suddenly. Despite what I learned in highschool about the French defeat of WW2 (France was overconfident behind the Maginot Line), Marc Bloch tells a different reason. The French army never understood how the speed of modern weapons had shortened space. Marc Bloch, serving at the front in 1940, recalled that the German offensive actually seem to overtake each French retreat: whenever Marc Bloch's unit retreated in 1940, they constantly found the Germans in their rear. The consequence was the French army was in a perpetual retreat and lacked the time to mount a proper counter offensive.
Marc Bloch also points to the cultural factors in the French defeat, namely the French education system which ignored history and visual arts in its cirriculum. He proposes a greater emphasis on both. I agree with the latter: in the US, we are saturated with images but we are visually illiterate. As for history, there is now too much emphasis on history without a comparable attempt to work things out in the present. This is a terrific book that reads like a no-holds barred fight.
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This slim, unpretentious volume, written at the time events took place, and validated by the author's subsequent death at German's hands, is the best witness account we have of the disintegration of what at the time was regarded the most powerful army in the Allied camp. There is a dry-eyed innocence in the reporting that makes the shattering news it conveys more momentous than anything I have read in more scholarly, more documented, chronicles of the period which overwhelm citizen experience with broader perspectives. This is not to minimize others' works, nor to regard M. Bloch as a "minimalist": au contraire. He was a world-renowned medieval scholar, so his mind was nuanced and perceptive, his approach unsentimental and objective; he brings the full intellectual rigor of his training and experience to extract all possible social, historical, and moral truth from the seemingly mundane. He was in his late forties when the war started but nonetheless, served with honor, very much with his eyes-opened, did his duty in the army and kept his brain functioning throughout rather than putting it on hold in blind patriotism (such a treacherous, over-rated popular paliative). He kept at his craft but rather than delving in ancient manuscripts he reported on what he observed around him of an army, indeed a state, in rapid collapse. The macro waves drowning the country are inferred from his micro observations. Indeed the many treasures come in seemingly casual descriptions of mundane events like millions of naked, flickering, low-wattage light-bulbs adumbrating the tragedy of national collapse. Bloch comes to a melancholic but inherently optimistic conclusion: the future of France will be built not by men of his generation, but by a new breed.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
The simple-minded are apt to chalk up the shocking defeat of France in the summer of 1940 to French weakness. If you'd rather think a bit more deeply, read this classic account by the pioneering medieval historian. Bloch, who lived through the defeat and died fighting with the French resistance, lays out a penetrating analysis of the French defeat. It is vivid, perceptive, beautifully written, and unsparing in its examination of the failures of the generals, the politicians, and the people. It is a thought-provoking cultural critique of a society in a moment of crisis. A classic.
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Format: Paperback
Other reviewers have given an excellent account of this book's main subject. What Bloch also reveals in these pages is the effect of ideology on the 20th century European mind. For example, he blasts the Germans for their embrace of "Hitlerian physics" but contrasts this to the "Marxist mathematics" promoted before the War by the French Left. He argues the spread of pacifism, first under Leon Blum and later under the High Command, prevented France's superior military from attacking the still-relatively weak Germans when they moved on the Rhineland. As he states: the German victory was fundamentally an intellectual victory, which is what made it so scary and ominous for the rest of the bloody 20th century. In this regard, consider Heidegger's towering intellect compared to Sartre's feebleness.

The book is filled with interesting anecdotal accounts of the Wehrmacht. Given the stereotypes, who knew German officers had "the bad habit of not returning salutes" properly? Who knew the German Army appeared in all respects "more democratic" than the French, with an easy camaraderie between officers and grunts? He attributes this to the powerful metaphysical bond the Nazis tapped into, especially among the young.

Anyone with knowledge of the disastrous political ideas of the 20th century will find a first-hand account confirming the worst. Bloch believed himself fully integrated into the French Republic and considered his Jewishness as secondary. The Nazis disagreed. The saddest thing in this story is that France has shown his optimism in the Republic was misplaced: French Jews are leaving in greater numbers today than anytime since Vichy.
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