Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist
by Pierre Birnbaum
Léon Blum (1872–1950) was many things: a socialist and political activist, leader of the Popular Front; a dedicated statesman who served as France's prime minister three times; a hero who courageously opposed anti-Semitism, Nazi aggression, and the pro-German Vichy government; a passionate lover of women, art, and life. A tireless champion for workers’ rights, Blum dramatically changed French society by establishing the forty-hour work week, paid holidays, and collective bargaining on wage claims. He was also a proud Jew and Zionist, and a survivor who endured the horrors of Buchenwald and Dachau.
Unlike previous biographies that downplay the significance of Blum’s Jewish heritage on his progressive politics, Pierre Birnbaum’s portrait depicts an extraordinary man whose political convictions were shaped and driven by his religious and cultural background. The author powerfully demonstrates how Blum’s Jewishness was central to his milieu and mission from his earliest entry into the political arena in reaction to the Dreyfus Affair, and how it sustained and motivated him throughout the remainder of his life. Birnbaum’s Léon Blum is a critical chapter in the larger history of Jews in France.
"Brief, eloquent ....A valuable introduction and guide to one of the most important, if overlooked, figures in the history of modern France and, indeed, modern Europe."-- New Republic
"The most concise of the authoritative biographies...It also makes clearer than the others how fully Blum assumed his Jewish identity, though in a rationalist, universalist, and civic form that was essentially secular. Finally, Birnbaum's biography is the most personal so far. "--Robert O. Paxton, New York Review of Books
"Illuminating...Birnbaum's insightful account allows readers to consider the comparison between today's anti-Semitism and that of an earlier era and opens up new ways of thinking about the present."--Foreign Affairs
''… an excellent short introduction to a heroic statesman who had the misfortune to live during a deeply tragic period of French history."—Vernon Bogdanor, Jewish Chronicle
"Brief, eloquent, and beautifully translated...A valuable introduction and guide to one of the most important, if overlooked, figures in the history of modern France and, indeed, modern Europe."--James McAuley and Patrice Higonnet, New Republic
"[Blum's] importance for an understanding of modern France is lucidly summarized in Pierre Birnbaum’s Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist."--Frederick Brown, Wall Street Journal
“Birbaum has drawn a sharp portrait that centres on Blum’s Jewishness… It is indeed timely that the Yale Jewish Lives series should have commissioned this wonderful, readable book, with the impressive Arthur Goldhammer responsible, as with many other recent French histories, for a clear and fluent translation.”—Julian Wright, Times Literary Supplement.
“Twenty years ago, Pierre Birnbaum wrote a brilliant Political History of State Jews in France, and now he has written a beautiful biography of the greatest of the state Jews. Léon Blum has never gotten the recognition he deserves as a French statesman, a socialist leader, and a proud Jew. That will change with this book.”—Michael Walzer, author of The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions
“A succinct, interesting, and compelling overview of the life of French politician and former Prime Minister Léon Blum. Pierre Birnbaum draws on a rich series of primary sources that bring Blum and his adversaries to life.”—Maud S. Mandel, author of Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict
"Birnbaum’s book provides critical insights into the intellectual makeup of a Jew who was a pivotal figure in French history."--Washington Jewish Week
"Blum is the subject of a new biography by Pierre Birnbaum, the first to be published in English for some time. The book has two aims: to explain Blum’s importance in French history, and to acknowledge the centrality of Blum’s Judaism to his political career. Birnbaum, a professor emeritus at the Sorbonne, succeeds on both counts. Léon Blum is lively, elegant, and concise."-- The Washington Free Bacon