A Taste for Intrigue
The Multiple Lives of François Mitterrand
By Philip Short
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805088533, 640pp.)
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
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The man who changed the course of modern France
In 1981, François Mitterrand became France’s first popularly elected socialist president. By the time he completed his mandate, he had led the country for 14 years, longer than any other French head of state in modern times. Mitterrand mirrored France in all its imperfections and tragedies, its cowardice and glory, its weakness and its strength.
In the wake of the Observatory affair (in which he orchestrated his own assassination attempt), his secretiveness and mistrust grew more pronounced, especially when details of a second family came to light; he was a mixture of “Machiavelli, Don Corleone, Casanova and the Little Prince,” said his doctor.
During the German occupation, Mitterrand hedged his bets by joining Petain’s Vichy government. Later in 1943, under the nom de guerre of Morland (and 30 other aliases), Mitterrand quit Vichy for the Resistance and a paramilitary organization.
He changed the ground rules of French social and political debate in ways more far-reaching and fundamental than any other modern leader before him, helping set the agenda for France and Europe for generations to come. Philip Short’s A Taste for Intrigue will fill the gap and become the standard against which all other Mitterrand biographies are set.
Philip Short is the author of several books, among them the definitive biographies Mao: A Life and Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare. He has been a foreign correspondent for The Times (London), The Economist, and the BBC in Uganda, Moscow, China, and Washington, D.C.
"[Mitterrand] was an elusive shape-shifter whose goals remained unknown even to his closest aides; his legacy is one of disturbing ambiguity, an opacity for which the media called him ‘the Sphinx.’ In ‘A Taste for Intrigue: The Multiple Lives of François Mitterrand,’ Philip Short masterfully probes these contradictions."—Wall Street Journal
"[An] engrossing, authoritative, and fair biography… chock-full of previously unavailable information."—New York Review of Books
“Short understands what he has accomplished in this book, which depicts Mitterrand as a fascinating, if also deeply mysterious character.”—The Washington Post
"[A] compelling, highly accomplished biography."—NPR
“Well-rounded… [Short is] at home with the international big picture and the arcana of French politics, but he's just as attentive to the convolutions of Mitterrand's private life.”—The American Prospect
“A balanced synthesis of a fascinating political career.”—Library Journal
“[A] comprehensive and balanced biography of one of the most important European leaders of the last century.”—Booklist
“Short’s book is a masterfully written, sweeping narrative of Mitterrand’s life with decisive, revealing anecdotes and a meticulous chronicling of fact that is remarkable enough to be fiction. … [This] biography is a gripping, insightful, and often entertaining account of one of Europe’s most complicated and fascinating men. It’s a must-read for any Francophile and enthusiast of 20th century political history.”—Popmatters.com
“Celebrated biographer Short again proves himself an adept storyteller in this look at France’s magnetic former president Mitterrand, bringing him back to life with a deeply intimate and intriguing history.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“An accessible biography… Short delivers a clear, useful picture of his subject and his country.”—Kirkus
“Philip Short’s writing combines the tenacity of an investigative journalist, the critical insight of an historian, and the suspense of a gifted novelist. His biographies of Mao and Pol Pot showcased his ability to elucidate complex historical figures, the sources of their influence, and the multiple forces shaping their ultimately brutal exercise of power. Without compromising the integrity of his research, his style is highly accessible, inviting readers to connect our own histories to a larger shared history. On the basis of this impressive record, his new biography of Mitterrand promises first-class scholarship—and an intriguing tale.”—Vaddey Ratner, author of The New York Times bestselling In the Shadow of the Banyan
“Philip Short's new book on Francois Mitterrand is the best sort of biography--deeply informed, entirely readable, and at the level of sophistication and complexity needed for its particular subject. Like Short, I covered France as a foreign correspondent during the Mitterrand era, and I thought I knew the man. Short's fascinating book has showed me how much I didn't know, not only about Mitterrand himself but also about the fraught eras of French and European history on which he left his mark.”—Richard Bernstein, author of The Coming Conflict with China