Léon Blum Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist Pierre Birnbaum

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
24 Jul 2015
Yale University Press
232 pages: 210 x 146 x 22mm
1 b-w illus.
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From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series, a new appreciation of the extraordinary life and legacy of Léon Blum, the first Jewish prime minister of France

"A valuable introduction and guide to one of the most important, if overlooked, figures in the history of modern France and, indeed, modern Europe."—James McAuley and Patrice Higonnet, New Republic

Léon Blum (1872–1950), France’s prime minister three times, socialist activist, and courageous opponent of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime, profoundly altered French society. It is Blum who is responsible for France’s forty-hour week and its paid holidays, which were among the many reforms he championed as a deputy and as prime minister, while acting as a proudly visible Jew, a Zionist, and eventually a survivor of Buchenwald.
This biography fully integrates Blum’s Jewish commitments into the larger story of his life. Unlike previous biographies that downplay the significance of Blum’s Jewish heritage on his progressive politics, Pierre Birnbaum’s portrait depicts an extraordinary man whose political convictions were shaped and driven by his cultural background. The author powerfully demonstrates how Blum’s Jewishness was central to his outlook and mission, from his earliest entry into the political arena in reaction to the Dreyfus Affair, and how it sustained and motivated him throughout the remainder of his life. Birnbaum’s Léon Blum is a critical chapter in the larger history of Jews in France.

About Jewish Lives: 

Jewish Lives is a prizewinning series of interpretative biography designed to explore the many facets of Jewish identity. Individual volumes illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences. Subjects are paired with authors to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of the Jewish experience from antiquity to the present.

In 2014, the Jewish Book Council named Jewish Lives the winner of its Jewish Book of the Year Award, the first series ever to receive this award.

More praise for Jewish Lives:

"Excellent" –New York Times

"Exemplary" –Wall Street Journal

"Distinguished" –New Yorker

"Superb" –The Guardian

One of France’s most eminent political sociologists, Pierre Birnbaum is professor emeritus at the Sorbonne. He is the author or co-author of seventeen books, including Anti-Semitism in France,The Jews of the Republic, and Geography of Hope. He is co-editor, with Ira Katznelson, of Paths for Emancipation.

“Twenty years ago, Pierre Birnbaum wrote a brilliant Political History of State Jews in France, and now he has written a beautiful biography of the greatest of the state Jews. Léon Blum has never gotten the recognition he deserves as a French statesman, a socialist leader, and a proud Jew. That will change with this book.”—Michael Walzer, author of The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions

“A succinct, interesting, and compelling overview of the life of French politician and former Prime Minister Léon Blum. Pierre Birnbaum draws on a rich series of primary sources that bring Blum and his adversaries to life.”—Maud S. Mandel, author of Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict

“…a surprisingly human portrait of the Zionist socialist and three-time prime minister of France.”—Melody Amsel-Arieli, Segula