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The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914-1940 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 1, 2014

3.8 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Notwithstanding the cultural brilliance of the Belle Epoque, the first half of the twentieth century was, in many ways, disastrous for France. It included the physical and human destruction of the Great War, the failed diplomacy of the interwar years, the rapid military collapse in WWII, and the shame of the Vichy regime. As this superb study reveals, these disasters were directly linked to a political and cultural rot that permeated all levels of French society. On the eve of WWI, France was still racked by unresolved issues carried over from the previous decades. The hatreds engendered by the Dreyfus affair, the conflicts between Catholics and secularists, and the riffs between staunch republicans and monarchists were still fought out in the popular press, literary organs, and sometimes in the streets. On a more fundamental level, Brown describes a retreat from the rationalism of the Enlightenment and an embrace of emotionalism and romantic nostalgia among French elites. This was manifested in an exclusionary nationalism, virulent anti-Semitism, and a general distrust of pluralistic democracy. This is a riveting portrait of a society weakened by internal decay. --Jay Freeman

Review

Praise for Frederick Brown’s
THE EMBRACE OF UNREASON
 
 
            “Frederick Brown, accomplished literary biographer, has emerged as the leading English-language chronicler of this appalling but fascinating French story. . .Brilliant.”
                                                            -David A. Bell, New Republic
 
“Brilliant...Splendid... This is terrific history.  Brown is an incisive biographer, very good on politics, still better on culture, and anybody who is interested in France, or finds its politics difficult to understand, should read this book. What’s more, he is a good storyteller, and each piece of the book is woven subtly into the whole. The idiosyncrasies of the French make sense, in Brown’s hands, as he shows how the cultural divides animated, embittered, and in the end weakened France, without, however, ever endangering French belief in their own superiority... At once social history, cultural history, and a series of biographical sketches, Frederick Brown’s book is both illuminating and a warning, and explains more about modern France and how it was formed than any other book of its short length and enviable readability.”
                                                            -Michael Korda, The Daily Beast
 
“Brown is an accomplished and accessible cultural historian.  His eye for the telling anecdote and colorful detail and seeming allergy to academic jargon make him an amiable and trustworthy guide to the dark side of the French psyche…The Embrace of Unreason is a lively and compelling work of cultural history.  Readers will be grateful for Brown’s sure-handed navigation through the thickets of French intellectual reaction…his fluent style and grasp of the period make it a pleasure to explore this unsettling terrain in his company.”
                                                            -Arthur Goldhammer, Bookforum
 
            “The author of Zola and Flaubert once again demonstrates his profound knowledge of French history, its people and their psyche…Francophiles will love this book…Read this illuminating book to see frightening similarities to the early years of the 21st century.  The lies, innuendo, invented evidence and baseless arguments are all too familiar.”
                                                            -Kirkus
 
“A riveting portrait of a society weakened by internal decay.”
                                                -Booklist (Starred Review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307595153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307595157
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #777,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Having been impressed by Brown's superb books on Zola and the era of Dreyfus, I found The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914-1940 more proof of just what a gifted author he truly is. This is a simply stunning look at the people, culture, and politics of France between the two world wars and is as well written and engrossing as anything I've read about that time in quite a while. Brown writes in a way that is highly entertaining and very scholarly at the same time. The reader feels they are immersed in the spirit of the era and has actually lived as an informed observer during the years leading to the horror of the Nazi occupation. Insightful, well researched, and profoundly satisfying study for scholars of the period as well as those seeking a better understanding of it.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have enjoyed The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914-1940. The book covers an important moment in French and, indirectly, European history. It is well-documented and provides rich in information about the 1918-1939 European Truce, a period of recent history which I consider has been largely neglected by historians and sociologists . As a historian Frederick Brown makes an excellent journalistic job. I came close to give five stars to the book, but I think that the author could have provided more deep coverage of the sociological aspects that shaped the epoch. A excellent, and quite enjoyable book, nevertheless,
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read this on the strength of Mr. Brown's excellent history of the Dreyfus affair. I was disappointed. There was little synthesis and even less information on the culmination of the french political right/fascist collaboration with the German occupation. There is little detail of the effects of the "embrace of unreason".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While the book gives a good overview of the second-half of the Third Republic, there are some issues with it that makes the book hard to read/follow.

1) The first half of the book covers topics that were covered in the first book, "For the Soul of France". With exception to the Dreyfus Affair, had Mr. Brown put this info in the first book, it would have been easier to read and would make room for more details of events that happened in the second half of the Third Republic.

2) Maybe this is just a personal opinion, but covering history in the non-linear format is a terrible way to cover history. The way that Mr. Brown would jump from era to era without a clear path makes understanding the periods harder to grasp.

3) The writing seemed to jump from biographical accounts of Barres, Maurras and Drieu La Rochelle to the political history of the era without a clear transition, which added to the confusion of following the events of the period.

It's a good history, just hard to read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A thorough, authoritative, review of the banalities of nationalism and demagoguery French style in the torturous period between the wars in Europe. A refreshing and sobering foil to the mass distributed treacly concept of France as an overly romanticized theme park of nostalgia and assorted icons.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have very mixed feelings about this book. I was expecting something like William Shirer's classic The Collapse of the Third Republic, except slimmer and with updated scholarship. Instead, it was a series of biographical, intellectual history sketches, some of which I found interesting and some not. The overall chronology of the period is only covered tangentially. At times I felt like the author had done the research for a Pierre Drieu La Rochelle biography, decided it was commercially impossible, and then fattened up 100 pages of that with some other stuff. One spends many pages inside his psyche, and relatively little hearing about the Popular Front or what was going on inside the Socialist party, its tortured examination of arms vs. butter, reactions to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, etc. (there is a little of that, but probably more about Drieu's love life). Well-written and researched book, but not exactly what I was looking for. Others might enjoy it tremendously.
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Format: Hardcover
Here is the story of a great country that prides itself on ideas having run out of ideas. Of the intellectual and moral catastrophe - masquerading as national revival - that preceded the military collapse of France under German invasion in 1940. And of the bitter subversion of French thought after the debacle of the First World War that allowed Marshal Philippe Petain to say that only the heroic surrender of France to Hitler could save the idea of France. But a France that was anti-democratic, anti-Semitic and scornful of heroes - foremost Charles de Gaulle - who believed in continuing the fight for the truer dream of France. This is a bitter and horrifying story, but a must-read book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excellent intellectual history showing the evolution of political thought from the strong and resolute to the weak and appeasing over a three-decade span. In particular, Brown shows the influence of the aberrant edges of culture on the evolution of what becomes politically acceptable to think. In short, cultural change has big impacts on expressed political beliefs.
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