cover image Francois Mitterrand

Francois Mitterrand

Ronald Tiersky. Palgrave MacMillan, $65 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-12908-8

The multitude of Fran ois Mitterrand's political guises, and the ease with which he discarded one to don another, have led many commentators to cite relentless ambition as the guiding principle of the late French president's career. Tiersky (France in the New Europe, etc.) insists, to the contrary, that the conundrums of Mitterrand's public life were due to the constancy of his personal convictions. During his more than half a century as a public figure in France, Mitterrand re-created himself continuously. He was a member of both the Vichy regime and the Resistance. He opposed Charles de Gaulle's policy on Algeria, while positioning himself as the leader of the French socialist movement. His adoption of socialist reforms at the beginning of his first term as president, in 1981, plunged the nation into a decade-long economic crisis, yet he won reelection and served as president for no less than 14 years. Tiersky does not seek to hide the enigmatic nature of his subject; instead, he traces minutely the many threads of Mitterrand's philosophical wanderings. His crisp, energetic narration gives both a sense of the biographer's fascination with his subject and an appreciation for the sheer breadth of Mitterrand's experience. The author succeeds in untwining the many conflicting motivations for Mitterrand's maneuvers, but perhaps is less adept at proving his thesis: that a single thread of principle linked the man's political experiments. In portraying Mitterrand (and thus rejecting de Gaulle) as the embodiment of postwar France, Tiersky proclaims that ambiguity has been the defining characteristic of recent French history. (July)