An insightful new biography of the central figure in the Dreyfus Affair, focused on the man himself and based on newly accessible documents
On January 5, 1895, Captain Alfred Dreyfus’s cries of innocence were drowned out by a mob shouting “Death to Judas!” In this book, Maurice Samuels gives readers new insight into Dreyfus himself—the man at the center of the affair. He tells the story of Dreyfus’s early life in Paris, his promising career as a French officer, the false accusation leading to his imprisonment on Devil’s Island, the fight to prove his innocence that divided the French nation, and his life of quiet obscurity after World War I.
Samuels’s striking perspective is enriched by a newly available archive of more than three thousand documents and objects donated by the Dreyfus family. Unlike many historians, Samuels argues that Dreyfus was not an “assimilated” Jew. Rather, he epitomized a new model of Jewish identity made possible by the French Revolution, when France became the first European nation to grant Jews full legal equality. This book analyzes Dreyfus’s complex relationship to Judaism and to antisemitism over the course of his life—a story that, as global antisemitism rises, echoes still. It also shows the profound effect of the Dreyfus Affair on the lives of Jews around the world.
Maurice Samuels is the Betty Jane Anlyan Professor of French and director of the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism at Yale University. He is the author most recently of The Betrayal of the Duchess: The Scandal That Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern. He lives in Branford, CT.
“The affair and its consequences, admirably and precisely presented in this study, compel us to be more vigilant when demagogues seek to divide us through the casual, and often purposeful, misuse of language.”—Ronald C. Rosbottom, Wall Street Journal “The Dreyfus affair is one of the moments where both modern anti-Semitism and crusading journalism and mass protest were born. Maurice Samuels provides a complex, lucid, narrative retelling that will simultaneously enrage any reader and inspire them with its tales of the stubborn search for justice. Even if you’ve read about Dreyfus before, you need to read this.”—Adam Gopnik, author of The Real Work
“An intimate portrait of the defiant rectitude of Alfred Dreyfus, the wrongfully accused French military officer whom Mark Twain called ‘the most infamously misused Jew of modern times.’ At a time when truth is flouted, bigotry rampant, and nationalism resurgent, Maurice Samuels provides an important account of a French society inflamed and divided by hatred of a deeply patriotic Jew. Exiled, abused, left for dead, Dreyfus never wavered in his fight for truth and a society of equal treatment for all. That fight continues to this day.”—Roger Cohen, Paris bureau chief, New York Times
“In this pioneering biography, Maurice Samuels restores Alfred Dreyfus to the affair that bears his name. In doing so, he rehabilitates an often disregarded form of modern Jewish identity and shows how one Jewish life could matter so much to so many others. A triumph.”—Samuel Moyn, author of Liberalism against Itself
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