Robert O. Paxton is Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social ­Science at Columbia and a historian of twentieth-century France. He is a former President of the Linnaean Society of New York.
 (May 2017)


A Parliament of Owls

A Eurasian eagle owl, one of the largest owls in the world, whose wings may span more than six feet; from Mike Unwin and David Tipling’s The Enigma of the Owl

The Enigma of the Owl: An Illustrated Natural History

by Mike Unwin and David Tipling, with a foreword by Tony Angell

Owls: A Guide to Every Species in the World

by Marianne Taylor
Humans have always noticed owls. One of the earliest examples of Paleolithic art is an owl engraved on the wall of the Chauvet cave in France. Among the peculiarities of owl physiognomy is that owls have both eyes facing forward, unlike most birds. They can also turn their heads 270 degrees (making up for their inability to move their eyes). It has been easy to imagine that these creatures of darkness, mostly experienced as an ominous cry in the night or a disconcerting stare during the day, have personalities, and malign ones at that.

Look Up and See!

An adult osprey carrying a fish to feed its family in the nest, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge; from Leslie Day’s Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City

Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City

by Leslie Day, with illustrations by Trudy Smoke, photographs by Beth Bergman, and a foreword by Don Riepe
New York is a particularly “birdy” city (to use the birder’s term). Someone who makes a serious effort to find birds in the city almost every day—there are such people—can find upward of three hundred species in one year without ever leaving the city limits, using only public transportation. The cumulative bird list of Central Park alone includes over 280 species.

The Truth About the Resistance

Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance

by Robert Gildea

Histoire de la Résistance, 1940–1945

by Olivier Wieviorka
The French Resistance cuts a wide swath in the public imagination, and not only in France. Books and films have planted indelible images of derailed trains and makeshift airstrips at midnight. These images reveal only a tiny part of the fluctuating, diverse, squabbling world of the Resistance. Encompassing its whole range of activities is a challenge.

A Surprising Prime Minister

Léon Blum, circa 1894

Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist

by Pierre Birnbaum, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer
When Léon Blum became president of the Council of Ministers of France—in effect, prime minister—on June 6, 1936, a world was turned on its head. He was the first socialist ever to occupy that position in France, and the first avowed Jew to head a major modern government anywhere (Benjamin …

The Bloodiest Urban Revolution

A barricade of the Communards at the corner of the Rue de Rivoli and the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, Paris, April 1871

Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune

by John Merriman
The Great Terror of 1793–1794 is often considered the bloodiest episode in the history of Paris, thanks perhaps to Charles Dickens. By careful count, Robespierre’s Revolutionary Tribunal ordered 2,639 people executed in Paris between April 1793 and July 1794.1 But at least seven times that many were killed in …

It’s Time to Live with the Birds

A great horned owl, nearly two feet tall, whose presence in John Marzluff’s Seattle suburb ‘directly benefits our garden by keeping the nonnative eastern cottontail rabbits on edge’

Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife

by John M. Marzluff, with illustrations by Jack DeLap
In March 2013 John Marzluff, a veteran ecology professor, spent a few days in Yellowstone National Park. As he always does when out of doors, Marzluff counted the birds he found there: twenty-four species. Traveling to New York City afterward, he spent several hours over two days in Manhattan’s green …

When France Went Dreadfully Wrong

Charles Maurras, leader of the Action française movement, at a French Academy ceremony, June 1939

The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914–1940

by Frederick Brown
Frederick Brown, the accomplished biographer of Zola, Flaubert, and Cocteau, has given us a kind of collective intellectual biography of France from the outbreak of World War I to the calamitous defeat of 1940. Despite the loss of so many talented young men in World War I, France seethed with …