Though often attacked and frequently the center of social and political turmoil, Paris has rarely been subject to occupying powers. In this respect, the four-year German occupation of Paris during World War II represents an unusual episode in the history of the metropolis, one that remains controversial to this day. Though numerous books have been written dealing aspects of this time, Alan Mitchell's book is the first to take advantage of French archival collections heretofore inaccessible due to their sensitive nature. This forms the great strength of the book and also its great weakness, as Mitchell provides not a comprehensive examination of Paris during the Nazi years but a narrower study of the German administration of Paris.
This is a history that is more complicated than it might seem, as the Germans established a regime of overlapping jurisdictions that often worked at cross-purposes with each other. One of the greatest strengths of Mitchell's account is his effort to disentangle this to show how it worked. His method of doing so is to divide the Occupation years into three periods, roughly corresponding to the establishment of the Occupation, the tightening of German control, and the effort to hold on as it was increasingly evident that Germany would lose the war. Within this approach Mitchell divides Occupation policy into descriptions of official administration and security efforts, propaganda, economic policy, and the harassment and discrimination of the Jews. Through it all Mitchell shows that the Germans' "model occupation," was anything but, with policy often riven by political infighting and the competing demands of governance and winning the ongoing war. Occasionally Mitchell loses focus, as his study of Paris can blur into a larger study of occupation policy in France itself. This is a minor complaint, however, given the perhaps inevitable intertwining of the two, and it does nothing to detract from the value of Mitchell's study of one of the darkest moments in the history of the "City of Lights."