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For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  158 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, a defeated and humiliated France split into cultural factions that ranged from those who embraced modernity to those who championed the restoration of throne and altar. This polarization—to which such iconic monuments as the Sacre-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower bear witness—intensified with a succession of grave events ov ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 8th 2011 by Anchor (first published 2010)
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Dec 23, 2014 Buck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Karen Armstrong is a silly person who writes books about religion. She also appears to be a kindly soul, in a tea-and-crumpets sort of way, but she’s still, I repeat, a silly person. In a recent Salon interview, she bemoaned the atheistic impertinencies of Bill Maher and Sam Harris, comparing the two men to Nazis for their criticism of Islam. ‘It fills me with despair,’ she said. ‘This is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps.’

Now, you don’t have to be a fan of either Maher or Har
Nov 18, 2013 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france, history, politics
What surprised me about Frederick Brown's For the Soul of France was its relevance to the culture wars at the beginning of the 21st century in the United States. Both fin-de-siècle France and post-9/11 America shared a static view of their respective nations. In France's case, it was Judaism that was seen as the interloper, as symbolized in the Dreyfus affair. In the United States, large segments of the population look back to an Anglo-Saxon golden age in which Evangelical religion and conservat ...more
Michelle Huot
Jul 22, 2015 Michelle Huot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Summer 2015 Re-read: Just as good the second time around. Managed to pick up on small yet important details I hadn't noticed before. Was a quick and fun read that makes me even more eager to start university in the fall.

Read this a while back for a history essay. Just picked up a paper-back copy. There are so many notes written in the margins of my old, hardcover copy that I can barely read it. This book was the catalyst for my obsession with the Dreyfus Affair. Rereading it because I can never
John David
If you thought that the Dreyfus Affair was the fons et origo of anti-Semitism in France, or that the Kulturkampf was just a phenomenon relegated to Bismarck’s imperial Germany, this book may just very well be the place to begin a solid education in late nineteenth-century French cultural history. Brown assumes a minimal knowledge of the politics of the time (First Empire, Second Republic, Third Empire, et cetera), but provides a useful chronology at the beginning of the book and adds just enough ...more
Lauren Albert
Apr 04, 2010 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-european
Anti-clericalism vs. clericalism? Separation of church and state? Monarchism or republicanism? Modernity or tradition? Anti-semitism or tolerant cosmopolitanism? These were the culture wars in the age of Dreyfus. While it was all fascinating to me, what I liked best were Brown's discussions of the controversies over the construction of the Eiffel Tower and the Dreyfus affair. I wasn't aware of the former and I was only superficially knowledgable about the latter. The fury and irrationality that ...more
Jun 19, 2011 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mary Ronan Drew
Apr 09, 2014 Mary Ronan Drew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Dreyfus Affair. I have always thought I knew what it was about. Someone was stealing secrets from the French military and handing them over to the Germans. A note incriminating its author was found in a wastebasket by a cleaning woman and the French military got busy finding someone to blame it on.

Not finding the traitor. Finding a man who could be presented to the public as a traitor. Who better to fill that role in 1890s France than a Jew. And so, with no evidence against him the French mi
Jul 26, 2014 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every country has its internal clashes, and For the Soul of France by Frederick Brown illuminates the cultural divisions of the French Third Republic, 1870 - 1940. This erudite and fascinating work explores the internal struggles of Fin-de-Siecle France between the French military and Catholic Church on one side and Scientific community and Republican idealists on the other, culminating with the notorious Dreyfus affair. Religious and secular divisions, of course, are not unique to France, as we ...more
Jul 27, 2014 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To me, the worst episode in French history is the Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus, Jewish only by birth, Captain in the French Army, was accused of being a traitor and, after a court martial based entirely on false and fabricated "evidence," was sentenced to 4 years on Devil's Island off the coast of French Guiana. Eventually, enough noise was made (and the real culprit discovered) that Dreyfus was given a second court martial. The verdict, in spite of the new evidence AND the uncovering of the t ...more
Louise Leetch
Jan 09, 2010 Louise Leetch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
They say you should write about what you know and Frederick Brown certainly knows the French. The events he chronicles at the end of the 19th century lead us through the quest to discern what exactly constitutes the essence of France.

Here is the saga of France’s sojourn from Monarchy to Republic. The French revolution may have begun in 1789 but it was fought well into the twentieth century. The author picks up the tale at the Franco Prussian War in 1870. He gives us the events that shaped Franc
Ruby Bibi
-Though confusing in the beginning because of the constant political gyrations that occurred in France in the second half of the 19th century, the explanations and the events that led up to a hatred of Jews is brought out. Anytime there is economic hardship, there is finger pointing as to the cause, and, invariably, the fingers are aimed at Jews.
-As we read of the political sides where one wants the return of a monarchy and the other looks to the establishment of a republic; we also find that th
Jan 23, 2016 Kitty rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Human nature does not improve with this carefully documented look at "culture wars in the age of Dreyfus" , the subtitle of the book. Why are we so eager for a scapegoat -- an explanation of woes-- and when, ever, is only one force, one person, one instance the culprit? Brown traces the role of the Church, the separation from state, the rise of Napoleon and mythology of the glory of war, alongside the rise of scientific rationalism and positivism, the blame of the partisan press on Jews for the ...more
This is a history of ideas and of culture in France between the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the end of the nineteenth century. It encompasses events ranging from the influence of the Catholic church on politics to the building of the Eiffel Tower and the unsuccessful attempt of De Lesseps to build the Panama Canal. One theme is scandals and there is a Banking scandal that rivals any in history.

There is a chronology provided that lists the principal figures and events from the Pari
May 29, 2011 Don rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle of the book is "Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus" and the book describes some of the virulent anti-semitism in France revealed by a couple of financial scandals and the Dreyfus affair. It also discusses anti-Republicanism and the attitude of the Catholic Church in the late 19th Century in France.

What Brown does not do, however, is place any of this in a larger context. How prevalent was anti-semitism and anti-Republicanism? In the Dreyfus chapter, which is the centerpiece of the b
Aug 26, 2011 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm tempted to rate this one 5 stars, but it wasn't quite amazing due to the many references to other history and culture of the time that I didn't get. Also, with long sections about uninteresting people (i.e. politicians) and the stupid things they did, it was a bit of a hard slog at times. In the end though, this book is exactly about the stupid things that people did, so it does a great job at explaining that. There are still parallels today as the culture wars continue in the US - progressi ...more
Feb 24, 2010 Kb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stylistically, Brown is no David McCullough, but for this history consumer, the density was but a speed bump in what was ultimately an enjoyable read. France often gets overlooked as a player in the geopolitics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which I now realize is because they couldn't get their house together in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war. This book chronicles the culture wars that followed that defeat, which was between the conservative, Catholic, royalist right and the pr ...more
Sheli Ellsworth
The genius of Fredrick Brown’s For the Soul of France may be lost on the average reader. While the religious, political and social upheaval following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was turbulent, Brown’s account of it is reflected in his equally turbulent prose.
Whether you applaud Brown’s account of the rise of secularism in Catholic France or deplore his literary formulation may depend on your experience with contemporary erudite composition. For some the emperor has no clothes—for others
Jun 21, 2012 Gayle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Interesting and detailed account of the intellectual, religious, and social strife that tore about French society after the Franco-Prussian society. Particularly appalling to read is the extent and breadth of French anti-semitism. Organizations existed whose very names proudly included the term "Anti-Semite".
After reading this account, one understands that the roots of the French inability to effectively deal with Hitler were deep-seated and had been forming over a period of 60 years.
May 23, 2013 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Highly readable description of deliberate manipulation of public opinion to create and sustain ideological polarization and eliminate cultural images of liberal religiosity. Explains why the religious right in this country (USA) works so hard to discount other definitions of faith. Shows also how a Roman Catholic hierarchy in social decline works cynically to avail itself of bigotry in lieu of genuine conversion. Cannot be too highly recommended for today's middle-of-the-road and liberal religio ...more
Jan 29, 2014 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall this describes the general trend towards secularism during the 3rd republic quite well. The differing philosophies during the start of the 3rd republic still have resonations in present-day France. One criticism is that the Dreyfus Affair should have been divided into 2 (or even 3) chapters. A summary/conclusion at the end would have been helpful as well. Was very much worth the time spent reading.
Mar 22, 2011 Ed rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brown is a good story teller and he relates a number of them in this book, including that of Dreyfus and Boulanger. His general theme seems to be that french reactionaries struggling with the advent of modernity found scapegoats in Jews. Unfortunately he gets so caught up in telling yarns that he doesn't argue very clearly for his point. This is good popular history, but its lack of rigor makes me appreciate some of the academic historians that i sometimes find tedious.
Jun 16, 2015 Mshelton50 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A superb book. Well-researched and written in a lively style, this is a "must read" for anyone interested in the history of modern France, particularly in the history of the Third Republic. Focused especially on the clash between Catholic, monarchist forces on the one hand, and secular, republican adherents on the other, Brown illustrates the "culture wars" of the period, over Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the Dreyfus Case, and others. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this small volume.
Rob MacCavett
Apr 03, 2012 Rob MacCavett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having worked for two French companies, I maintain a special curiosity about this country and its sophisticated yet aloof people. In this case, a cultural look at the late nineteenth century when decades of political turmoil and the defeat at the hands of Germany in 1870 get somehow balled-up in the infamous Dreyfus Affair. As Karl Marx once said, “There is much to be learned from the French.”
How the Catholic Church and the Third Republic fought it out (surprisingly literally) in the decades after the Franco-Prussian War, culminating in the Dreyfus Affair. The Third Republic gov't tried to make the Catholic Church irrelevant. The Catholic Church said no. A standoff!
Yves Fey
Jul 20, 2012 Yves Fey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, fascinating, and detailed account of the ongoing war between the Right and Left in turn-of-the-century France. The Dreyfus Affair is the centerpiece, but it is surrounded by other events. Rather scarily apt for today's political conflicts.
Melanie Reed
wonderful book! I have been wondering for years what is this 'Dreyfus Affair' that I see references to in lots of places - turns out to be rather a long story because undestanding it requires some understanding of what was happening in France for several decades previous.
Margaret Sankey
In which everything in France was divided into pro and anti-Dreyfusard factions, and some of them still are.
Wilson Hines
I am absolutely looking forward to this book, seeing what influence the Dreyfuss affair had with the "stab-in-the-back" mentality of Weimar Germany.
Theodore rated it it was ok
Apr 20, 2015
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FREDERICK BROWN is the author of several award-winning books, including For the Soul of France; Flaubert, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist; and Zola, one of The New York Times best books of the year. Brown has twice been the recipient of both Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. He lives in New York City.
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