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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb evaluation of the French Defeat
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...
Published on October 31, 2001 by Mark Twain

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3.0 out of 5 stars Love this to an extent.
This is not a history as much as it is Bloch reflecting on France's defeat to the Nazis. There are many aspects that I believe Bloch ignores to some extent by not mentioning or not giving them consideration. This an almost biographical account of his experiences and doesn't attempt to be an overall history of causes and events that led to the creation of Vichy France...
Published 13 months ago by james gray


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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb evaluation of the French Defeat, October 31, 2001
This review is from: Strange Defeat (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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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible for Understanding 20th Century France, October 15, 2006
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This review is from: Strange Defeat (Paperback)
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. How ironic this observation in the midst of the overwhelming propaganda for Petain's phony reactionary, bullying National Revolution and its relatively widespread support (at least in its early stages) in Occupied and Vichy France. This book was written after the defeat and before he joined the Resistance (in whose service he was captured, tortured and killed by the Gestapo). Even in the most abject moments of defeat, I don't think Bloch ever wavered in the belief that the Germans would eventually have to go. Indeed, without regret or melancholy, there seems to have been an absolute faith in the eventual disappearance of the old, pre-popular front, pre-war French order, as much as of French political and military men, as of pre-war French bourgeoisie. The book could have been written by a character in Renoir's 1939 masterpiece "Regle du Jeu." This is real though, and our author a genuine hero. Perhaps it would have been ironically interesting, had he lived, to learn what he would have made of Indochine, Algerie, Gaullism and the heady days of 1968.

For anyone interested in the second world war and French history, this little book is indispensible.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Account of a Shocking Defeat, July 24, 2006
By 
Rastignac (Ann Arbor, MI USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Strange Defeat (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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Important Book...on Ideology, April 8, 2007
This review is from: Strange Defeat (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eyewitness Account of the French Defeat in WWII, August 29, 2011
By 
WryGuy2 (Out On Life's Journey) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strange Defeat (Paperback)
In "Strange Victory", French Army Captain Marc Bloch, gives a first-hand account of the French defeat in May-June 1940, and discusses why and how the French were defeated. Bloch was a veteran of World War I, and due to patriotic reasons, remained as a reserve officer between World War I and II, while earning a living as a professor and historian. Although he was 53 years old at the outbreak of World War II, he voluntarily elected to continue service, and was eventually assigned as a divisional fuels officer. He was assigned to the "Northern Front", and was among those encircled by the Germans in their May 1940 offensive, and was evacuated at Dunkirk. After evacuation he was returned to France in the Normandy area, and when the Germans reached his area, rather than surrender, he slipped away and returned home to write this history in 1940.

The book opens with a description of what he experienced from the outbreak of war until his return home. Although he was not a front-line officer, he was able to observe a great deal from the French side of things, from a command perpective. And because of his training as a historian, he was able to have a certain detachment, which enabled him to understand what was happening, and why. The rest of the book explains why the French were basically defeated by the Germans in only six weeks of combat whereas they had defeated the Germans 22 years before.

While Bloch has many reasons why the French lost, which he explains in great detail, several important ones were that the French were re-fighting World War I and were overwhelmed by the sheer speed of the German advance, the French leadership did not aggressively remove incompentent officers from responsible positions when they had the time, French officer training was woefully deficient in teaching the skills they'd need to fight the next war, and French political leadership was fractured.

Bloch was known as a fighter, and joined the French resistance in late 1942. He was captured by the Vichy Police and executed by the Germans in June 1944, so this book was only published posthumously in 1946. As I mentioned above, Bloch wrote this book after the French defeat, and it has a freshness and immediacy that you won't find in books written after the war. There are no maps, tables, or photographs in this book, although if you're familiar with the campaign, they really aren't needed. Although always well written and thought-provoking, the writing is often very dry, particularly in the latter parts of the book. However, even though this book was written in 1940, it describes as well as any other book written after the war why the French were beaten.

Recommended for those who want to learn more about the French defeat in 1940, as analzyed by a French officer who was there.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional and accurate analysis of French defeat in WWII, January 31, 2009
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This review is from: Strange Defeat (Paperback)
As both an avid reader of WWII history and early 20th century European history I find Marc Bloch's analysis of the French defeat not only insightful but his first hand accounts amazingly accurate. His original book was hastily written following the French loss. At the time he was a renowned Medieval history professor who took up his reserve status in the French Army at the age of 52 only to see the arrogance, ineptitude and disgrace of the self-serving leadership of the French Army and government under Jenri Phillippe Petan.

This later to be published book was found in a desk of the family home in the south of France. Having read several other short essays and books on the French defeat it's fascinating that the French, better armed, better prepared completely ignored the German's new strategies of combined air, tank and infantry tactics and the fast, penetrating attacks of the blitzkrieg. He clearly saw this first hand the alternatives the French had to stop the Germans following several eye witnesses accounts of battles and the unwillingness of the French to change tactics and to simply resupply their army. This is a shocking and eye opening view of how leadership can fail a nation.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Love this to an extent., August 23, 2013
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james gray (SENECA, SOUTH CAROLINA, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strange Defeat (Paperback)
This is not a history as much as it is Bloch reflecting on France's defeat to the Nazis. There are many aspects that I believe Bloch ignores to some extent by not mentioning or not giving them consideration. This an almost biographical account of his experiences and doesn't attempt to be an overall history of causes and events that led to the creation of Vichy France. Still, it is interesting as a first hand account of an historian turned soldier and what he experienced during the French capitulation to Germany during the early days of WWII.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Look at French Ground-eye View, November 5, 2012
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This review is from: Strange Defeat (Paperback)
Strange Defeat presents the Fall of France, 1940 from the French perspective. Not the official self-defensive view of the French political-military establishment, but from the grounds-eye of a French Reservist Captain working in the Fuel Supply system in Northern France in 1940. It is written almost immediately after the campaign, and the author goes on to be tortured and killed by the Germans in 1944 for his activities in the Resistance. Marc Bloch was a professional historian of the Middle Ages, so the prose can be a tad elaborate, but it is frankly a refreshing difference from the routine language of most military histories. Much of the analysis is about Fench military politics in the period before the war and why the outcome was pre-ordained by the decisions the French made. He counterposes the French decisions and methods to that of the Germans in the interwar period and during the Phoney War. As a proper historian, he gives the Germans credit where it is due -- despite his obvious historical antipathy towards them (he fought in the Great War). It is also a subtle window into the French social system of classes and the tensions between them, he unabashedly supports his own class and that of the working man -- which not only explains some of the events leading to 1940, but offes insight into the post-war actions of DeGaulle and others.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking, July 5, 2013
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This review is from: Strange Defeat (Paperback)
Iam American and i hate the negative "french cowardice" stereotype. one only has to do some authentic research to know that the French are some of the bravest soldiers. however during WW2 there were plenty of examples of french cowardice. there were also acts of bravery from the french. March Bloch gives in true detail his experiences as a soldier. of his fellow soldiers and the incompetence of the high command. a must have for anyone interested in the facts. no matter how disheartening they may be at times.
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28 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good title, strange analysis, July 31, 2004
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This review is from: Strange Defeat (Paperback)
While Bloch most assuredly was a patriot and served his country the best he could in both wars, his view of France and the French seems to be at odds with subsequent historical analysis. Bloch seems to blame the generals for the problems dealing with French impotence in the face of the Germans, but he doesn't seem to dig deep enough to examine alternative explanations, such as the fact that the French had not won a war since Napoleon and were fundamentally inept compared to other war machines. But since war is much more of a "natural" human state than peace, a society which does not educate and prepare for it is doomed to lose any battle where the enemy is better trained, disciplined, and focused. In many ways, Bloch's analysis ignores the political consequences of the lack of public understanding of the stakes at hand and instead looks at one aspect of examining the military humiliation of the "Phoney War". France was too divided politically and socially to win any battle verses the Nazi war machine. In many ways his analysis is more appropriate to why the French lost Vietnam than why it lost France to the Germans. But of course that happened long after he had been executed by the Nazis.

While this book has some good insights, it is not really anywhere near as good as Paxton's "Vichy France", but Paxton had the benefit of historical records unavailable to Bloch; however Bloch had the benefit of living the history that Paxton reveals.

But unlike the cowards like Sartre who sat out the war and watched the Germans rape his native land while the Vichy politicians acted as their cuckolds, he fought for his country and had an opinion that France was to blame for its own ignominy, instead of modern revisionists who sit back and attack those who stood up to evil.
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Strange Defeat
Strange Defeat by Marc Bloch (Paperback - July 17, 1999)
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