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Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation

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Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation [Hardcover]

Charles Glass (Author)
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews) Like (4)

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Book Description

January 7, 2010
Acclaimed journalist Charlie Glass looks to the American expatriate experience of Nazi-occupied Paris to reveal a fascinating forgotten history of the greatest generation.

In Americans in Paris, tales of adventure, intrigue, passion, deceit, and survival unfold season by season, from the spring of 1940 to liberation in the summer of 1944, as renowned journalist Charles Glass tells the story of a remarkable cast of expatriates and their struggles in Nazi Paris. Before the Second World War began, approximately thirty thousand Americans lived in Paris, and when war broke out in 1939 almost five thousand remained. As citizens of a neutral nation, the Americans in Paris believed they had little to fear. They were wrong. Glass's discovery of letters, diaries, war documents, and police files reveals as never before how Americans were trapped in a web of intrigue, collaboration, and courage.

Artists, writers, scientists, playboys, musicians, cultural mandarins, and ordinary businessmen-all were swept up in extraordinary circumstances and tested as few Americans before or since. Charles Bedaux, a French-born, naturalized American millionaire, determined his alliances as a businessman first, a decision that would ultimately make him an enemy to all. Countess Clara Longworth de Chambrun was torn by family ties to President Roosevelt and the Vichy government, but her fiercest loyalty was to her beloved American Library of Paris. Sylvia Beach attempted to run her famous English-language bookshop, Shakespeare & Company, while helping her Jewish friends and her colleagues in the Resistance. Dr. Sumner Jackson, wartime chief surgeon of the American Hospital in Paris, risked his life aiding Allied soldiers to escape to Britain and resisting the occupier from the first day. These stories and others come together to create a unique portrait of an eccentric, original, diverse American community.

Charles Glass has written an exciting, fast-paced, and elegant account of the moral contradictions faced by Americans in Paris during France's dangerous occupation years. For four hard years, from the summer of 1940 until U.S. troops liberated Paris in August 1944, Americans were intimately caught up in the city's fate. Americans in Paris is an unforgettable tale of treachery by some, cowardice by others, and unparalleled bravery by a few.

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Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation + And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris + The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When the German army marched into Paris on June 14, 1940, approximately 5,000 Americans remained in Paris. They had refused or been unable to leave for many different reasons; their actions during the course of the German occupation would prove to be just as varied. Glass interweaves the experiences of some of the individuals who belonged to this unique colony of American expatriates living in Paris. Among the stories highlighted are those of Charles Bedaux, an American millionaire determined to carry on with his business affairs as usual; Sylvia Beach, owner of the famous English-language bookstore Shakespeare & Company; Clara Longworth de Chambrun, patroness of the American Library in Paris and distantly related to FDR; and Dr. Sumner Jackson, the American Hospital’s chief surgeon. These fascinating tales reflect the complicated network of choices—passive compromise, outright collaboration, patient retreat, and active resistance—that existed for Americans caught in the German web. --Margaret Flanagan


''A vivid gallery of expatriates animates this chronicle of Paris during the Second World War. Drawing heavily on primary source material, Glass narrates the Nazi Occupation year by year, unfolding stories of resilience and despair. . . By focussing with exhaustive thoroughness on a relatively small group, Glass is able to capture the complex stories of 'as diverse a collection of opposed beliefs and backgrounds as in any American metropolis.' '' --New Yorker

''Once upon a time, historians told stories about the brave and the cowardly, about heroes, villains, and the many whose lives lay somewhere in between. That's what Glass. . . has done in this extraordinary narrative . . . This is outstanding popular history, well researched and told and never oversimplified. It's difficult to conceive of anyone who wouldn't enjoy this exceptional book. --Library Journal

''A fascinating treat.'' --Telegraph (London)

''Charles Glass handles this rich and complex material well. . . He never loses the reader's attention.'' --Spectator --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

Product Details

  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (January 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202427
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202421
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Customer Reviews

Nonetheless, it is an interesting read for those who love history and I highly recommend it. Robert R. Briggs  |  11 reviewers made a similar statement
Anyway, unfortunately this book just plods along with a litany of events. Kendrick  |  3 reviewers made a similar statement
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
105 of 108 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Vine™ Review (What's this?)
This is an interesting but not riveting book telling the stories of various American citizens from 1939 to 1945 in France. Although the narrative is somewhat disjointed and at times incomplete, I liked the author's work. It is definitely worth reading if one is interested in World War II. However, to put the stories into context, I recommend reading "Hitler's Empire -- How The Nazis Ruled Europe" by Mark Mazower.

A quick check in my library of other works concerning France under German occupation in WWII revealed essentially no information on the people covered by this work. Books like "France Under The Germans", "Verdict On Vichy", "The French Against The French", "Soldiers Of The Night", "Vichy Two Years Of Deception" and "Paris Underground" failed to mention the principal characters in this work, and Ambassador Bullitt only rated a single line in all of the above. Obviously, the French and writers of the French occupation years are interested in only presenting the stories of French citizens -- usually to depict how heroic they were in resisting the Germans. The actual story as we now know is that collaboration was widespread and Vichy was the only Non-German government that voluntarily rounded up and shipped off Jews to Germany for extermination.

So to me, at least, this story of Americans in France during this time was essentially unknown. Some of those individuals covered in this work actively resisted the Germans and some didn't. Nonetheless, I found all of the characters important to form a complete picture of the situation, although some like Charles Bedaux present complex and sometimes contradictory behavior. One must remember that most of the Americans who remained behind in France after Ambassador Bullitt recommended that all American citizens leave after the outbreak of the war in September, 1939, exhibited a strong streak of Francophilia and tended to look to France as their cultural and spiritual fatherland. The author also shows this tendency when he speaks of Paris as the cultural capital of Europe, and by extension, of the world. France certainly got a lot of mileage out of assisting the US in its Revolutionary War and has been repaid many times over for that involvement. And the author is incorrect in stating that "... 17,000 Frenchmen had answered the Marguis de Lafayette's call to fight for American independence." No such thing occurred -- the French soldiers in Rochambeau's army were fighting against England after France declared war on England.

The writing is relatively good, but the stories are sometimes thrown together haphazardously. For example, the story of Drue Leyton stops at one point where she is in Southern France, and she next appears near Paris. How did she get there with her name on the Gestapo list for immediate arrest and execution? Then her story mysteriously stops while running a ratline for downed fliers. It would be nice to know that she survived the war, but she rates no mention in the Epilogue. Drue (born Dorothy Parsons in Mexico in 1903 of American parents and who grew up in Mexico) had been an accomplished Hollywood actress but one of the curious tribe of American women who favor all things foreign to the exclusion of all things American, yet still consider themselves American patriots. Late in life she returned to the US after experiencing French xenophobia first-hand, and died in California in 1997 where her foreign exploits and "exotic" lifestyle were welcome.

The treatment of Ambassador William Bullitt also could have been expanded. He was a fascinating character who eventually fought as a Major in De Gaulle's Free French Army without losing his citizenship. As the author points out, Bullitt fell from Roosevelt's favor when he stayed in Paris rather than following the French Government in their flight to Southern France and was ultimately removed as Ambassador. Robert Murphy became an important player in Torch and other time during the war although he was often viewed as a somewhat controversial diplomat. Charles Bedaux is a major character developed in this work, but the mystery of why the American Government continues to refuse to allow access to documents (to this day) concerning his activities certainly indicates that there is more to his story than is being told.

All in all, this is an interesting book that does not quite rise to five stars due to so many missing elements. I also hope the author will include some photos of many of the characters in the final edition (this review is being made from the Vine advance proof.) Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it to anyone interested in World War II.
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Vine™ Review (What's this?)
The anecdotal material buried inside this 400-plus page book is fascinating, but the reader sometimes has to dig deep to find the nuggets -- such as the octagenerian African-American French Legion veteran who appears in the opening and closing chapters, only to vanish in between; the story of Mary Berg (American only in name) who miraculously is sent from Warsaw to an American internment camp (which isn't, incidentally, in Paris at all...) and Drue Leyton, who runs a Resistance and evasion network when not interned as an enemy alien.

The problem, I think, is that Glass has approached his subject in an almost encyclopedic way, cramming together the stories of anyone and everyone who was American and who happened to be in Paris between June 1940 and August 1944. The result is jarring, as we move from Sylvia Beach (a fascinating story of the experiences of a Left Bank bookseller and patron of such writers as Hemingway and Joyce) to unknown heroes, like the doctor at the American Hospital in Neuilly, who sacrifices himself to save Allied airmen and others as part of the Resistance. Some have fascinating stories, but simply don't fit well into the overall story, like Charles Bedaux, at whose home the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were married, and who appears to have had no interest in anything but doing business -- with whatever regime he happened to be tied to at the point in time. Technically an American -- and someone who died in American custody -- he's not really representative of the experience of Americans in Paris during this time.

The stories are often compelling, but a good book is more than just a series of stories tied together in chronological chapters; it has some kind of overarching theme or point to it. A book of a similar kind that I've re-read several times, How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life During the Second World War deftly combines themes and chronology for a fascinating tale of day-to-day experiences of British civilians in the war. In this case, Glass has no overarching theme: it's simply stories about these individuals and their very disparate experiences.

That is part of what made this a frustrating book for me to read. Moreover, in addition to a choppy narrative and the absence of an overall theme or focus, the writing is often dry and ponderous, along the lines of 'X went to Y, where she met A. They played tennis and golf, and had dinner. Then Y went to meet with Z..." The prose style began to feel almost like a metronome. I realized just how irritating this had become when I read a passage in which a Parisienne describes the sounds of the night under occupation, the military footsteps of five soldiers marching with precision; occasional bursts of gunfire, etc. and it conjured up such a vivid mental image that I shivered. Glass's own prose comes nowhere close to conjuring up that sense of time and place, alas.

Most irritating at all, there are a host of characters who simply vanish from the book altogether -- we don't find out what happens to them by war's end or after the war. The most egregious example of this is Pierre Laval, who was executed for treason by the French in 1945. True, he's not American, but his daughter was married to the son of two of the primary characters in the book, Comte Adlebert and Comtesse Clara de Chambrun (she American; he, American-born and a dual citizen; a descendant of Lafayette) and Laval himself appears frequently throughout the book. One would imagine that a dramatic ending to his life would be worthy of noting. Similarly, it's only thanks to another reviewer here that I learned what had happened to Drue Leyton!

There is a tremendous amount of research in this book, and many parts of it are very intriguing. But at the end of the day, what it succeeded in doing was whetting my appetite for some of the original source material on which Glass based his book, rather than inspiring admiration for the book itself. I've ordered some of them, and will start by reading about Sylvia Beach and her store, Shakespeare & Company.

I'm sure this will find a host of eager readers among those who are interested in World War II anecdotes -- and I don't think there is another summary book on this subject. Still, it doesn't come close to being what it could have been, and ends up feeling rambling and chit-chatty where it should have been focused and created a sense of dramatic tension. I've rated it 3.5 stars, rounded down. Only for those very interested in the era and without the time or patience to seek out some of the biographies or primary material about these individuals and their lives.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Vine™ Review (What's this?)
The title is imprecise: The geographical scope is wider than Paris, and the featured Americans had stronger ties to France than to the U.S. That is why they stayed there after the French army's collapse and the division of the country between a German-occupied zone and the territory of the collaborationist Vichy regime. Leaving would have entailed the sacrifice of extensive business interests or close personal friendships or humanitarian enterprises.

Americans in Paris follows the fortunes of about half a dozen of these Franco-Americans. They are not a representative sample. Except for a few who show up only in vignettes, all have been the subjects of other books. They include industrialist and efficiency expert Charles Bedaux, the aristocratic de Chambrun family (père an American citizen in his own mind, mère and fils in reality), Dr. Sumner Jackson of the American Hospital in Paris, and Sylvia Beach, proprietress of the original Shakespeare and Company, Paris's leading English language bookstore. I suspect that octogenarian Charles Anderson, a minor business functionary married to a French woman, is more typical. He gets only a passage near the end of the book, and that passage aims to score points against American racism rather than illuminate the experience of living in wartime Paris.

The advantage of the atypical main characters is that they have fascinating, and very different, stories. On one side is Dr. Jackson, who used his hospital position to help downed Allied airmen escape from the Germans. More ambivalent are the Chambruns, who worked to keep the American Hospital and American Library out of Nazi hands but showed no sympathy for the Resistance and were on good terms with Pierre Laval, whose daughter Chambrun fils had married. M. Bedaux alternately fought with and sought to profit from both Vichy and Berlin. At the end of his life, he was facing treason charges in the United States; the post-war French government awarded him a posthumous knighthood of the Legion of Honor. Sylvia Beach, fiercely anti-Nazi but intent on keeping her bookstore running, kept her head down.

Because the author's sources are, for the most part, his subjects themselves or their family and friends, all look at least a little bit heroic. Because all but Miss Beach were comparatively affluent, their sufferings were doubtless less than those of a Charles Anderson. There is room for a more comprehensive study of expatriate Americans' "life and death under Nazi occupation". This one, nevertheless, fills part of the niche quite admirably.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
Worth reading
This book has so many details about the people of several nations who spent the war years in Paris. Not only the literary giants, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but also bookstore... Read more
Published 12 days ago by Bryn
Life and death under kindle occupation
The kindle price is higher than the real copies? Really? It's amazing the arrogance of either amazon or the publishers. Why do they do this? I feel occupied by virtual nazies.
Published 20 days ago by Tankery
An underrated, albeit EXCELLENT, read!!!
OK, I saw the dissenting reviews and suspect these reviewers really had no interest in some of the most fascinating and in-depth information this book provides on Charles Eugene... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Charles W. Clowdis
A must-read book?
I recently read this book because it was selected for a history book group I joined. I found the book a bit hard to follow at first, because there were multiple characters. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Emily Hayes
Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation
I read this book twice and, for some unknown reason, liked it much better the second time. Once I stopped focusing on the individual people and paid attention to the overall... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Kim Burdick
Interesting and novel
Wars don't just happen at the front lines. They don't just happen at policy level with Kings and Presidents and Generals in the back office. Read more
Published 7 months ago by J. Edgar Mihelic
More facts than one can handle
If you love being fire-hosed with endless details, this book is for you. While I appreciated the accuracy it was very difficult to remember half of the storylines/people. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Esteban
fabulous book
OK, there are lots of characters in this book, and you can lose track of which one is which. The book switches from character to character as it moves through the war, and so a... Read more
Published 12 months ago by H. Prince
book characters come alive
This could have been a book with just researched facts. But Charles Glass gives the Americans, who stayed in France during WWII, another dimension. Read more
Published 13 months ago by FM
Informational, dry in parts; a missed opportunity
Charles Glass' detailed history of four American families living through the German occupation in Paris relies on diaries, previous writings and memoires. Read more
Published 14 months ago by John E. Drury
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