For the Soul of France, by Frederick Brown
The subtitle of this book is Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus, and it is a fascinating history of the wrenching issues that roiled France in the period between the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the beginning of World War I. This period bordered on civil war throughout as France was deeply split between cultural factions that ranged from those that embraced modernity and those that favored a restoration of throne and altar. Running through it all was the current of anti-Semitism that seemingly poisoned every issue. The author effectively uses the development of monuments such as the Sacre-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower to illustrate the polarization, along with the failure of an investment bank sponsored by Catholic interests, the collapse of the Panama Canal Company, and the sensational and fraudulent charge of treason against a Jewish officer, Albert Dreyfus. The dynamics of these events help to illustrate the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in 20th century Europe, which created deep divisions that ultimately led to France’s surrender to Hitler in 1940. A brilliant study of a period not often covered.
The Shield of Achilles, by Philip Bobbitt
This is a massive work of over 800 pages covering five centuries of the evolution of the state through its worldwide cycles of war and peace. It was written in 2002 and includes an epilogue by the author for comments on the immediate post-9/11 world. It begins with a history of warfare and the development of the modern state over the period since the 15th century, then provides an in-depth examination of the dynamics of war, peace, and the international order leading to what the author calls “the long war” of 1914-1990, a period during which the world basically fought a number of wars to determine what kind of state would supersede the imperial states of Europe that emerged in the 19th century after the wars of the French Revolution. As told by Bobbitt, essentially what was at stake were three concepts of governance–Fascism, Communism, and Parliamentarianism. It is a bold treatment full of brilliant scholarship, and reaches some very perceptive conclusions about the characteristics of the “market-state’, which Bobbitt believes is the 21st century successor to the nation-state of the 20th century. This is an extremely detailed book, but rich in scholarship and very rewarding.