Marc Bloch: A Life in History

Carole Fink

Cambridge University Press 1989
A book review by Danny Yee © 1995
Those who feel a biography ought to recount untold mundane details of its subject's personal life won't be enthused by Fink's Marc Bloch. It is very much an intellectual biography, concentrating on Bloch's academic career and writings and on the wider currents of French history. Much more attention is paid, for example, to his father's work as a historian than to his relationship with his son, and Bloch's marriage is only mentioned in passing: "Marc Bloch returned to Paris, where on 19 July he was married to the former Simonne Vidal" — who hasn't been previously mentioned and, after a brief description, isn't mentioned again for 150 pages! Fink provides more details of Bloch's wartime activities — his experiences in the army in 1940, his involvement with the Resistance, and his capture, torture and execution by the Gestapo in 1944 — but even here broader literary and historical themes are prominent, most notably Bloch's writing of Strange Defeat and his political stance under Vichy as a patriotic assimilated Jew.

For those interested in historiography, and particularly French historiography, Fink's biography has plenty to offer — among other things, a lengthy account of the origins and first decade of the Annales, details of Bloch's collaboration with Febvre and their conception of a new kind of history, and a good summary of Bloch's legacy. More generally, it contains material about academic life in France between the wars (when Bloch was trying to obtain a position in the Coll├Ęge de France) and then under Vichy, and about the effects of totalitarianism and anti-semitism on the intellectual life of the Third Republic.

Marc Bloch is an odd choice for Cambridge's cheap Canto imprint, since it is likely to have limited appeal to the general reader. It will, however, be a boon for anyone already interested in Bloch, Bloch's work, or modern historiography.

October 1995

External links:
- buy from or
- details at Cambridge University Press
Related reviews:
- books about France + French history
- more biography
- more historiography
- books published by Cambridge University Press
%T Marc Bloch
%S A Life in History
%A Fink, Carole
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 1989
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0521406714
%P xix,371pp