An authority on French history has written a brilliant survey of the key aspects of French life in the decade before the debacle. A pointillist approach, full of individual anecdotes, that gives a portrait of confusion and conflict, of cultural creativity and political dithering. The author's admirable erudition -- and the stunning command of sources, published and unpublished, ingeniously assembled -- is rendered in lighthearted, witty, but unfailingly perceptive commentary. Incisive judgments abound: "Catholicism was the Right at prayer," especially at the time of the Popular Front. A pithy summary of French ambivalence about America's growing presence: "Americans were young, rich, generous, physically seductive, mentally deficient, culturally detrimental." Weber writes with affection and stringent regret, and he does much to explain France's decline and defeat. He makes one ponder how in the postwar decades France regained resilience and in essential ways transformed itself.