In This Review

Francois Mitterrand: The Last French President
Francois Mitterrand: The Last French President
By Ronald Tiersky
St. Martin's, 2000, 464 pp

A wonderfully informative, entertaining, and comprehensive study of Mitterrand. Tiersky describes a complex, seductive, and secretive man with enormous ambition, strong loyalty to often dubious friends, and considerable fondness for cunning (sometimes with disastrous results for his career). There was never anything unequivocal about him. In many respects Mitterrand was the opposite of de Gaulle, whose prestige and mythic authority he resented. Yet he used his presidency in a truly Gaullist manner, and his commitment to European integration was probably his greatest display of statecraft. After Mitterrand, Tiersky writes, no French president will ever again wield so much power, given the subsequent changes in French society and new European constraints on French sovereignty -- and no future president will be able to use Machiavellian reasoning on governance as shamelessly. Tiersky's volume is the story of both the man and his country, covering an enormous amount of ground in both respects. Yet its greatest merit is that it unwittingly provides the reader with all the reasons necessary to render a verdict less admiring of Mitterrand than the author has.