"A swindler charmed and spent his way to the heights of the [French] Republic, before coming to a mysterious end on the side of Mont-Blanc." With these words, Paul F. Jankowski introduces his subject, Russian-born Sacha Stavisky, who in 1934 set off a scandal that rivaled the Dreyfus affair in its intensity. "So wide was his reach [and] so dogged his pursuit of influence that," Jankowski finds, "his brief passage . . . reveal[s] . . . the inner workings of the Republic's high society." In the author's engaging tale of a flawed public order, the elite circles and the demi-monde of depression-era Paris come vividly to life.A confidence man with a long police record who had escaped trial because of the influence of his powerful friends, Stavisky saw his final get-rich scheme collapse in 1933. His unexplained death in an Alpine hide-out gave new credence to rumors that he had been abetted and protected by leading politicians. The scandal grew even uglier when the mutilated corpse of a judge connected to the case was found on a railroad track.Jankowski skillfully recounts Stavisky's notorious schemes and untimely demise, the deadly riot that rocked Paris in its wake, the fall of successive governments including that of Edouard Daladier, and the spectacular trial of many of the swindler's accomplices. "Sacha Stavisky, much against his will," the author observes, "had ignited an explosion that briefly engulfed the entire system of government."Jankowski's thorough investigation of these dramatic events includes research in police and judicial archives that at his request were opened for the first time. From these rich sources he saw "slowly emerge, as though drawn in invisible ink, the people of scandal, the portraits of a moment." His account brings to life a motley cast of characters including the rogue himself, whose Jewish origins proved a boon to anti-Semites; his widow Arlette, the glamour girl of the capital; and a mixed-race citizen of Martinique who was editor of a scurrilous weekly paper.Stavisky was ultimately a man who instigated a crisis that laid bare the strains and tensions in France's democratic institutions. For Jankowski, this crisis was the last and the loudest of the scandals that rocked France from the 1880s to the 1930s, punctuating with spectacle and tumult the implantation of a liberal republic after a century of failed experiments.
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"This is a fascinating story, first told by Paul Jankowski. . . more than a year ago. . . He delves into the archives, carefully noting every item, to set Stavisky, a naturalised Jew, into the French contect of his time."―The Economist, March 7, 2002
"Jankowski patiently pieces together the story of Sacha Stavisky, a lifelong trompeur whose business dealings and mysterious death in 1934 left a wake powerful enough to threaten the Third Republic of France. . . Through the use of bribes, blackmail and intimidation―which the author examines with élan―Stavisky warded off judicial intervention and further bought his way into the administration of several Parisian newspapers. . . Jankowski captures every twist and turn in the case."―Publishers Weekly, April 1, 2002
"Jankowski here presents an account of this financial and political scandal, emphasizing its importance in relation to French history rather than dwelling on biographical facts. . . Jankowski, who had access to newly opened police and judicial archives, offers a thorough and well-researched account. . . . Recommended for academic and French history collections."―Library Journal, April 2002
"Jankowski's study is not concerned with the broader setting either of French political scandals or of the 'Stavisky' but concentrates on the mechanism of the fraud, the characters involved, and the feebleness of the institutions that opposed them. Previous historical studies left a number of questions open. Did official inquiries get to the bottom of the affair, or were other prominent politicians in the pay of Stavisky? What was the truth about his death? And why did Judge Prince, twice decorated in World War I, tie himself to a railway track? Jankowski sets out to answer these questions working from the original records, many of which were previously closed and which he describes as the most voluminous judicial archive he has ever seen."―Patrick Marnham. The New York Review of Books, December 19, 2002
"But the wealth of detail, and Jankowski's occasional sardonic comments, make Stavisky a fascinating exploration of the moral health of the Third Republic in the 1930s."―Kenneth Moure, UC Santa Barbara. H-France Book Reviews Fall 2002.
"Jankowski did extensive research in previously closed judicial archives, and he has written an engrossing account of Stavisky's exploits. The tale has been told before, but never so well."―Donald Reid, Harvard University. Business History Review 2002.
"The Stavisky Affair figures centrally in every account of the declining French Third Republic, but up to now no one had explained just who did what. Paul F. Jankowski has performed miracles in the police and judicial archives. His gritty tale of local corruption and official complicity is worthy of Dashiell Hammett. More profoundly, he explores the nature of political scandal, and the curious alchemy of dashed idealism, opportunism, and media hype that transformed one episode into a reason why many French people yearned in the 1930s for a change of regime."―Robert O. Paxton, Columbia University
" I consider Paul F. Jankowski to be one of the ablest young historians of contemporary France. As he demonstrates in Stavisky, his scholarship is impeccable. He has the art of telling a story in such a way that it reads like a novel, even as he draws in all the political implications of the story. The Stavisky case almost brought down the Third Republic, and I don't think that we will ever have either a more thorough or a more entertaining account of this incredible affair."―Stanley Hoffmann, Center for European Studies, Harvard University
Brandeis historian Jankowski (Communism and Collaboration: Simon Sabatini and Politics in Marseille, 1919-1944) patiently pieces together the story of Sacha Stavisky, a lifelong trompeur whose business dealings and mysterious death in 1934 left a wake powerful enough to threaten the Third Republic of France. The affair revolved around a complicated soft money racket operating through a municipal credit union, wherein fraudulent bonds were cashed out to Stavisky already under court investigation and making the scandal sheets as a runaway show promoter who then covered the bonds with other fraudulent sureties. Through the use of bribes, blackmail and intimidation which the author examines with ‚lan Stavisky warded off judicial intervention and further bought his way into the administration of several Parisian newspapers, controlling first advertising and then the news. In the forging of such political ties, argues Jankowski, a charlatan revealed the corruptibility of a state already seriously marred by scandal, but his tar-and-feathering also paved the way for anti-Semitism (Stavisky was of Jewish descent) in France. Jankowski captures every twist and turn in the case, but potentially more interesting material an ensuing riot, the horrific results of French anti-Semitism, the inevitable collapse of the Third Republic isn't given enough play here, and an ambiguous epilogue leaves the reader hanging. While the book provides an ornate portrait of the Third Republic before the rise of Vichy, its appeal will be mainly to academics and historians and serious readers of French history. 19 b&w photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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