Once admitted to an exalted and privileged circle, French politicians enjoy extraordinarily long and full careers. Chirac started his in 1950 on the streets of Paris, handing out copies of the communist daily L’Humanité, and ended it in 2007 as a Gaullist president of the French Republic. True to his reputation, he comes across as likable, unpretentious, and intelligent. He describes with equal charm and ease his first sexual experience, the intricacies of European agricultural policies, and the pettiness of former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. But Chirac’s story often seems like not much more than a series of excuses for why he achieved so little. During his first term as prime minister, in the 1970s, he was hamstrung by Giscard. In the 1980s, the Socialists cynically introduced proportional representation to strengthen the extreme right and undermine Chirac’s Gaullist party. Chirac then “cohabited” as prime minister with a Socialist president, François Mitterrand. In the 1990s, he achieved the presidency himself only to rule over a motley coalition of conservatives and blunt the ambition of his rising successor, Nicolas Sarkozy. As with most political memoirists, Chirac portrays his motives throughout his struggles as uniformly noble and pure.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.