Along with Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl, and Francois Mitterand, Jacques Chirac is one of the most iconic statesmen of the twentieth century. Two-time president of France, mayor of Paris, and international politician, a recent poll voted him the most admired political figure in France, with current president Nicolas Sarkozy ranking in 32nd place. This memoir covers the full scope of Chirac's political career of more than 50 years and includes the last century's most significant events. A protégé of General de Gaulle, Chirac started political life after France's defeat in Algeria in the early 1960s. He then became Prime Minister George de Pompidou's bulldozer and a personal negotiator with Saddam Hussein for France's oil interests in the Persian Gulf. He sold Iraq its first nuclear reactor and incurred the wrath of the United States and Israel, which he discusses in striking detail. As mayor of Paris, Chirac was famed for his success in beautifying the City of Lights and keeping it whole during the heady days of the 1968 riots. As president in the 1990s and early 2000s, Chirac took controversial steps to privatize the economy and plan the European Union. Chirac seldom pulls punches and in several dramatic chapters describes his opposition to the US invasion of Iraq in 2002 and his personal meetings with George W. Bush. These landmark events are brought into sharp focus in this memoir that the popular French magazine Paris Match said steals the show even after its author decamped the presidential palace.
France's president from 1995 to 2007 wrestles with intractable issues amid gridlocked politics in this tense memoir. Chirac's career in center-right Gaullist parties shows just how conflicted and dysfunctional France's dual-executive system was: he was prime minister to a president of his own party who hated and undermined him (Valery Giscard d'Estaing), then to Socialist president Francois Mitterrand, who opposed him politically; during his own presidency he endured a similarly contentious "cohabitation" with Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Through it all, he wrestled with, but scarcely resolved, problems with budgets, pensions, France's immigrants, and European integration. Chirac epitomizes French consensus politics, with its Gallic mixture of grandiosity and realism; in the book he is forever proclaiming adamant principle on, say, pension reform or Bosnia, only to retreat into prudent expediency in the face of mass strikes or military risks. Although ill-served by the off-key translation-Americans say nuclear "deterrence," not "dissuasion"-he crafts tart, vivid critiques of people and policies, including extended attacks on Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and on Bush's rush into the Iraq War by way of "a dominating and Manichean logic that favored force over law." His is a revealing, though not quite inspiring, self-portrait of an archetypal figure in a Europe that's now all but collapsed. Photos. Agent: Benita Edzard, Editions Robert Laffont. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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November 13, 2012
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