In This Review

A Taste for Intrigue: The Multiple Lives of François Mitterrand
A Taste for Intrigue: The Multiple Lives of François Mitterrand
By Philip Short
Henry Holt and Co., 2014, 640 pp

When François Mitterrand was president of France, from 1981 until 1995, the most common adjective used to describe him was “Machiavellian.” During his 50 years in politics, he seemed always to improvise the precise political alliances required to assure his own survival. The result was a series of paradoxes. The most successful Socialist leader of postwar France never fully renounced his lifelong links to Vichy collaborators, allied his party with the Communist Party only in order to destroy it, and ended up in a ruling coalition with right-wing parties. He socialized a third of the French economy, then turned around and privatized an even larger portion of it. He once came close to ruining his political career when he was double-crossed by someone he had hired to fake an assassination attempt on him. His personal life was just as tangled: he kept two families, one with his wife and the other with a mistress, while amicably sharing quarters with his wife’s lover. Short has interviewed more insiders than anyone else. The resulting book lacks precision on Mitterrand’s inner thoughts and on the policy challenges he faced, but it is the best account of the extraordinary machinations of this fascinating, ambiguous politician.