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France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Pétain by Julian Jackson

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Telegraph Book of the Year
A Times, Spectator and Prospect Book of the Year

One of the great contemporary historians of France
on one of the most controversial periods of twentieth-century French history

Few images more shocked the French population during the Occupation than the photograph of Marshal Philippe Petain - the great French hero of the First World War - shaking the hand of Hitler on 20 October 1940. In a radio speech after this meeting, Petain told the French people that he was 'entering down the road of collaboration'. He ended with the words: 'This is my policy. My ministers are responsible to me. It is I alone who will be judged by History.' Five years later, in July 1945, the hour of judgement - if not yet the judgement of History - arrived. Petain was brought before a specially created High Court to answer for his conduct between the signing of the armistice with Germany in June 1940 and the Liberation of France in August 1944.

Julian Jackson uses Petain's three-week trial as a lens through which to examine the central crisis of twentieth-century French history - the defeat of 1940, the signing of the armistice and Vichy's policy of collaboration - what the main prosecutor Mornet called 'four years to erase from our history'. As head of the Vichy regime in the Second, Petain became one of France's most notorious public figures, and the lightening-rod for collective guilt and retribution immediately after the Second World War. In France on Trial Jackson blends politics and personal drama to explore how different national factions sought to try to claim the past, or establish their interpretation of it, as a way of claiming the present and future.

About the Author
Julian Jackson is Emeritus Professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London and one of the foremost British scholars of twentieth-century France. A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle won the Duff Cooper Prize, the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, the American Library in Paris Award, the Franco-British Society Literary Prize, the Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique du Touquet and the Prix Special du Jury de Prix de Geopolitique. His other books include France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, which was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times History Book Award, and The Fall of France, which won the Wolfson History Prize in 2004. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques and Officier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Julian Jackson brings to life here with his customary mastery the trial in 1945 of France's highest ranking military officer, accused of having betrayed his country. Philippe Petain knew extremes of glory and shame in his long military career. In 1919, as the supreme commander of French armies in World War I, he rode down the Champs-Elysees at the head of a victory parade. After June 1940, with almost unlimited power and prestige, he governed France under German occupation. In 1945 he sat in a French courtroom charged with treason for his exercise of that power. In this compelling book, Julian Jackson gives the reader a seat in the jury box and then follows France's debate over Petain - hero or traitor? - over the next fifty years. -- Robert Paxton, Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science, Columbia University
The great general of the First World War, collaborator with Germany in the Second, how is Marshal Philippe Petain to be remembered? His trial on charges of treason divided the French in 1945 and has divided them ever since. In the hands of Julian Jackson, a superb historian with the sensibility of a novelist, this is a story not just about Petain but about war and resistance, the moral compromises of leadership and the meaning of France itself. -- Margaret MacMillan, Emeritus Professor of International History, University of Oxford
A superb book ... Jackson is that rare beast: a distinguished academic historian who writes with flair and clarity... one could almost be buried in a work of high-class fiction... 5/5 stars * Sunday Telegraph *
If... cowardice, bad faith, dishonour and moral ambivalence is your thing, read on... A highly talented storyteller, Jackson certainly knows how to set the scene... What is chilling in Jackson's beautifully researched and meticulous account of the trial is the hopeless mediocrity of almost all people involved in it: from judges and jurors (resistants and parliamentarians) to lawyers prosecutors and witnesses. * Observer *
Julian Jackson, the foremost historian of the period, here provides a magisterial account of this extraordinary yet also somehow squalid courtroom drama and its context. ... [A] fine, thought-provoking book. * Sunday Times *
A splendid book ... The central narrative of the trial grips like a thriller ... Jackson's vivid prose is leavened by wit and sharpened by telling details ... This is a substantial achievement by a historian at the top of his game. * Literary Review *
In France on Trial, his masterful account of the case, the historian Julian Jackson explains that it was not just Petain who was being called to account, but the whole of France. * Financial Times *
Painstakingly researched ... Jackson vividly reconstructs the drama. * Economist *
An enthralling book ... The past is dangerous, you see. Real, hard history of this kind can reach out of the page and stick its thumb in your eye. Who needs fiction when the truth is as gripping as this? 5/5 stars. * Mail on Sunday *
An essential key to understanding the country's recent past. * Spectator *
A scrupulous and vivid reconstruction of the trial * Times Literary Supplement *
'It is a sound approach to cover such a big canvas, one that springs to life thanks to Jackson's command of sources and exquisite use of anecdotes. ... There is a cinematic quality to the way Jackson brings us into the packed courtroom ... Listening to the testimonies, we too wrestle with terrible dilemmas' * The Critic *
Professor Jackson's clear exposition of a criminal trial in the context of modern French history is an excellent illustration of a certain class of case with serious political consequences, beyond those of the accused. * Irish Legal News *
I have nothing but praise for the way Jackson tells the story, with a clear elucidation of the swirling political passions, and vivid portraits of the heroes and villains, and those in between. * Tablet *
Julian Jackson's France on Trial is one of those instant classic history books that are immediately recognisable as a masterpiece of scholarship. Although ostensibly about Marshal Petain's trial in the aftermath of the Second World War, Jackson weaves in all the main issues regarding French resistance versus collaboration, and the profound chiaroscuro between the extremes. I read it in Lyon, where the superb Resistance Museum records in powerful detail the crimes of Klaus Barbie and others, and it proved the perfect intellectual backdrop for the trip.
Brilliantly researched and vividly narrated ... Jackson manages to engage the reader, adopting a rich literary style to communicate ... the atmosphere in and outside of the court and the personality of the characters ... Riveting. * Jewish Chronicle *
[An] outstanding book ... Jackson's vivid, stylish, sometimes even cinematic reconstruction suggests this court case was about far more than one elderly man ... Jackson skilfully evokes the trial scene's atmosphere... [a] gripping and timely book. * Business Post *
Highly detailed ... an impressive command of the nuances of this trial ... authoritative. -- John Reeves * LA Review of Books *
This account of Philippe Petain's 1945 trial for treason is a superb achievement, both reconstructing France's Vichy shame and thoughtfully analysing its aftermath. * Daily Telegraph, Top 50 Books of 2023 *
Perhaps the history book of the year. Jackson understands France like few others: he looks in vivid fashion at the trial of the arch-collaborator, and how the actions of a man who had embodied France's heroism in the Great War became, 20 years later, the symbol of its shame ... he subtly argues that the whole French nation, and not just its disgraced leader, was on trial. -- Simon Heffer * Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year *
France on Trial stands out - a meticulously researched, attractively written account of the trial of the first world war hero turned Nazi collaborator Marshal Petain and its woeful Vichy background. Excellent on Petain's legacy in modern right-wing French politics, Jackson adopts the requisite tone for a historian of our times, interrogating uncomfortable truths with objectivity mixed with lightness of touch. -- Andrew Lycett * Spectator, Books of the Year *
This extraordinary book exposes how various sides in the Petain debate have manipulated the historical record in a desperate attempt to make the past palatable. -- Gerard DeGroot * The Times, Books of the Year *
Julian Jackson's France on Trial grapples with the life and (mis)deeds of Philippe Petain-the French general who led the Vichy regime during the Second World War-and the country's dark feelings of hatred and guilt after the war. * Prospect Books of the Year *

Book Information
ISBN 9780241450253
Author Julian Jackson
Format Hardback
Page Count 480
Imprint Allen Lane
Publisher Penguin Books Ltd
Weight(grams) 700g
Dimensions(mm) 238mm * 158mm * 44mm


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