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The Hollow Years: France in the 1930's Hardcover – February, 1995

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This dark, dense chronicle examines France's national psyche during the 1930s when, still traumatized by WWI, the nation faced looming German aggressiveness. Economic depression, a rising tide of xenophobia and anti-Semitism and a paralysis of leadership, exemplified by the appeasement of the Nazis, brought the country to a point in 1939 when it seemed virtually unwilling to defend itself. Weber (A Modern History of Europe) dramatizes the political and diplomatic indecision, especially in the military, with its declining morale and expectation of catastrophe. Although France possessed more tanks and ground troops than Germany, its army suffered an ignominious defeat in the blitzkrieg of May-June 1940. A compelling examination of a demoralized nation. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Weber (history, UCLA) is the author of numerous monographs on French history (France: Fin de Siecle, Belknap Pr: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1986) and narrator of a highly acclaimed PBS video series on the history of Western civilization. He brings a wealth of erudition and insight to this narrative, in which no aspect of French society in the troubled Thirties is left untouched. Although paying the obligatory attention to politics and foreign affairs, this book is even more important for uncovering a host of societal and demographic details-clothing styles, roles and attitudes of women, modes of leisure, changes within the Catholic Church, and the state of intellectual life-that provide a fascinating and absorbing portrait of this society. Weber concludes that France, led by an assortment of ineffective politicians, exhibited a "morose" and clearly identifiable mood in these years, a "nightmare of fear," and a sense of vulnerability. While intended for scholars, this magnificent narrative should also be enjoyed by general readers interested in contemporary history.
Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; 1st edition (February 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393036715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393036718
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,661,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. N. Kras on February 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
'The Hollow Years' was an unsatisfying, yet compelling read. Eugen Weber offers his readers a truly kaleidoscopical view of what France (partly) was in the 1930's. Each chapter centers a baffling amount of facts around themes as society, religion, morality, agriculture, demographics, the highs and lows of the French economy, and last but not least French politics. After having finished reading, the reader has digested such an amount of data that one wonders how Eugen Weber could have possibly called this book 'The hollow years'.
Weber's book contains excellent passages. The first chapter, in which Weber describes the widespread sentiment against war is very well written. The issues of religious life, emerging leisure and vacation, and the emancipation of French women are well worked out. Yet, over the whole, Weber has not been able to free himself from the weight of the primary (and secondary) sources stacked (in amazing quantity) in the footnotes. We read facts, hardly interpretations. We get information, but little overview. The book develops no grand, overarching themes. The image of France stays very diffuse. Fittingly, the book does not end on a conclusion.
The author's choice to solely focus on facts, not trends, results in the incomprehensible omission of cardinal elements of what France (also) was in the 1930's:
- Despite the eye-popping blue on the 1930 world-maps, Weber entirely ignores the French domination of Viet-Nam, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Madagascar and enormous parts of Africa. The Colonial Exposition (1930), which marks the apogee of French empire and attracted millions of visitors is left virtually untreated.
- During the 1930's, the French Communist Party became the most important West-European Communist Party and a leading force in French politics.
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Format: Hardcover
As a great fan of Weber, particularly his social histories of turn-of-the-century France, I bought this book with the highest expectations. There are endless lessons to be drawn from France's disastrous policies and psychological conditions in the 1920s and 1930s. Striking and poignant are the contrasts both with pre-1914 France and with the nation's confident development after World War Two. Weber certainly captures much of this, and you can't quarrel with the thrust of his analysis. He is also a very elegant writer. Newcomers to this period of French history will therefore greatly enjoy his book. For those with deeper prior knowledge of inter-war France, the book may be a tad disappointing because so much of the detail is familiar and available elsewhere. Nevertheless, well worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover
On first glance Weber does not appear to be an ideological historian. He is lighter, more charming, and more tolerant than, say, Richard Pipes. Peasants into Frenchman, his most famous book, is noticeably more profound than Pipes' own relfections on the Russian peasantry where the gap in class, religion and nation produces a noticeably gap in sympathy. But this is ultimately misleading. Weber is an ideologue of consumerism. The problem with this account of the thirties is the subtle but insinuating sense of superiority that Weber feels against France for being insufficiently wealthy, insufficiently successful, insufficiently innovative. It is too worried about dreary politics of the left and right, not like the hip charming sexy centrists of the New Republic. His anecdotes look less at complex debates about French diplomacy, its economic performance, class struggle and about the "real" issue of living in our joyful yet principled anti-Communist consumer utopia, and how France fails on this score. The result is a stimulating book full of lively detail which is subtly misleading. Historians recognize that they have the advantage of hindsight, and that the people they study do not. Weber seems to forget this crucial point.
Weber's gift for anecdote can be seen in his discussion of the diffusion of such things as refrigerators, telephones, electricity. French roads were so bad in the thirties that one would not bet to get from Paris to Lyons in less than nine hours. When Jacques Le Roy Ladurie, a leading French historian went for his driver's liscence, he hit a wall and a chicken and nearly missed a pedestrian, but still got his liscence. Carmelite nuns never washed themselves and used paper strips when menstruating.
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Format: Paperback
A montage of glimpses into France between the World Wars. A book of this short length, on such a subject, simply cannot cover it to any detail, no matter how skilfully written. Though the latter it certainly is, given the author's expertise as a writer and a historian.
The chapters are disconnected. There is little flow between one and the next. Which means that you can read them in any order, with little narrative loss.
Within a chapter, we see sharp anecdotes, that highlight the subject, be it the culture/s, migrants, religion or whatever. Some of these are bloody hilarious. Like, did you know that in some French cities, people were emptying slop buckets into the streets till the 1950s? Yuk! :-( Wow! That regular bathing was rare, and widely considered unhealthy?
Some attitudes, like the suspicion of the emanations of power lines, echo today's views in France and elsewhere in Europe, about genetically modified foods.
Quite a nice read.
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