Napoleon and de Gaulle: Heroes and History

Belknap: Harvard. May 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780674988385. $35. HIST
Gueniffey (director, Raymond Aron Ctr. for Political Research, L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales; Bonaparte) argues that the role of the hero in shaping modern French history against current scholarship downplays the role of the individual in favor of long-term structures and processes. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) and Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970), argues the author, represented the “power of embodiment,” necessary during their time because France had yet to come together as a unified country. Gueniffey doesn’t slight Napoleon’s achievements as sovereign, but this is a book about the forceful power of will in history, not a survey of the two rulers’ accomplishments. Gueniffey tells how Napoleon was obsessed with war, as that was where glory resided. On the other hand, De Gaulle was captivated by a vision of a France that no longer was. As president, he was determined to restore France’s long-missing grandeur, and to help his country and its people recover from two failed wars.
VERDICT This lively, discerning study requires familiarity with French history and politics. However, it is worth the effort for scholars of those areas

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