I skimmed over some of the early parts where so much detail about political changes after 1870 got mind-boggling. However, the author was setting the stage for the fin de siècle conflicts between the French Left and Right, and by the time we get to ‘Boulangerism’ it’s pretty interesting. Historians usually take care to show how one event leads to another, and there’s a bonus when they give you a vivid sense of the past that feels like understanding . . . even if it makes you shudder. I get the impression that France at the end of the nineteenth century was in the same collective mind set that characterized Germany after WWI—the retreat into irrationality and xenophobia, the yearning for dictatorship. Good sense brought France back from the brink. One regrets that the wonderful original painting of the period wasn’t covered, but you can’t have everything.
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