My Life in Politics

Jacques Chirac, trans. from the French by Catherine Spencer. Palgrave Macmillan, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-230-34088-6
France’s president from 1995 to 2007 wrestles with intractable issues amid gridlocked politics in this tense memoir. Chirac’s career in center-right Gaullist parties shows just how conflicted and dysfunctional France’s dual-executive system was: he was prime minister to a president of his own party who hated and undermined him (Valery Giscard d’Estaing), then to Socialist president François Mitterrand, who opposed him politically; during his own presidency he endured a similarly contentious “cohabitation” with Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Through it all, he wrestled with, but scarcely resolved, problems with budgets, pensions, France’s immigrants, and European integration. Chirac epitomizes French consensus politics, with its Gallic mixture of grandiosity and realism; in the book he is forever proclaiming adamant principle on, say, pension reform or Bosnia, only to retreat into prudent expediency in the face of mass strikes or military risks. Although ill-served by the off-key translation—Americans say nuclear “deterrence,” not “dissuasion”—he crafts tart, vivid critiques of people and policies, including extended attacks on Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and on Bush’s rush into the Iraq War by way of “a dominating and Manichean logic that favored force over law.” His is a revealing, though not quite inspiring, self-portrait of an archetypal figure in a Europe that’s now all but collapsed. Photos. Agent: Benita Edzard, Editions Robert Laffont. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 07/30/2012
Release date: 11/13/2012
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