Review of Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis by Matthew Cobb (Pocket Books, 2009)
In Resistance, Matthew Cobb provides a broad social and political history of the French resistance movement in France during the Second World War, drawing on extensive archival and interview research. What his analysis demonstrates is that the Resistance was, in fact, many resistances, made up of hundreds of groups and cells working in broad alliances, cross-cut with deep political schisms, clashes of personalities, differences in opinion, tactics and strategies, and answering to different masters. A real strength of the book is that Cobb manages to, on the one hand, contextualise resistance within wider European and global politics and the war, and within what was happening in France with respect to the Vichy regime and the apparatus of Nazi oppression, and on the other, to provide in-depth discussion of particular individuals and groups, and their motivations, aspirations, actions and fate. As such, he provides by both breadth and depth, dispassionate contextualisation and poignant intimacy. It’s a powerful combination that leads to a huge amount of information being crammed into a relatively short book without it ever feeling rushed or truncated. In addition, rather than simply describing events as with many historical texts, Cobb provides an explanatory framework, seeking to interpret why certain decisions were undertaken, and he does so from a relatively neutral position, detailing how others have interpreted the same events and why his view concurs or differs. In my view, it’s an excellent piece of work, covering a huge amount of ground in a lively, engaging and informative voice. If you want a rounded, synoptic introduction to the various Resistance movements in France, this is a great place to start.