Max Gallo Essay - Critical Essays

Gallo, Max


Max Gallo 1932–

(Has also written under pseudonym Max Laugham) French novelist and historian.

The following entry provides an overview of Gallo's career through 1995.

A popular author of historical fiction and nonfiction, Gallo is praised for his detailed and accessible accounts of modern historical events and biographies of European leaders. La nuit des longs couteaux (1970; The Night of Long Knives), a nonfiction work that examines Adolf Hitler's 1934 assassination of SA leader Ernst Röhm and about one hundred other political opponents within the Nazi party, ably demonstrates his command of complex historical data and his readable journalistic style.

Biographical Information

Born in Nice, France, Gallo was educated at the Lycée du Parc Imperial and at the Faculté des lettres et institut d'études politique of Paris, earning doctorates in contemporary history and letters. While teaching at the Lycée du Parc between 1960 and 1965, Gallo wrote his acclaimed L'Italie de Mussolini (1964; Mussolini's Italy), after which he became a journalist, television writer, and novelist. A socialist activist during the 1970s and 1980s, Gallo was named to various posts in the French government under François Mitterand.

Major Works

Most of Gallo's works, fiction and nonfiction alike, focus on contemporary historical themes and people. Mussolini's Italy, for example, incorporates extensive historical documentation in a biographical exploration of the complex character of Benito Mussolini—tracing the rise and fall of Italy's Fascist dictator during World War II. Maximilien Robespierre (1968; Robespierre the Incorruptible) examines the character of Robespierre, one of the principle agents of the French Revolution. Subtitled "A Psychobiography," this work incorporates detailed historical information and psychological theory to construct a portrait of Robespierre, showing him to be a lonely man struggling with an inner need for recognition and dignity. In Histoire de l'Espagne franquiste (1969; Spain under Franco), Gallo examines the life and political career of General Francisco Franco of Spain. Working from extensive primary documentation, Gallo follows Franco's rise to power and explores his dictatorial governing style. Gallo's first novel, Le cortège des vainqueurs (1972; With the Victors) also takes place in Italy during World War II. The story follows the wartime career of Lieutenant Marco Naldi, who is a press secretary for Mussolini's son-in-law. Motivated by his desire to maintain the values and traditions of his aristocratic Italian upbringing, Naldi lives a sexually promiscuous life in and around some of the major figures and political events that have changed the course of western civilization in the twentieth century. Following the publication of I manifestinella storia e nel costume (1973; The Poster in History), which traces the history of western poster art from 1789 to 1970, Gallo wrote the La baie des anges novel trilogy (1975–1976) and the two-novel sequence Les hommes naissant tous le même jour: Aurore (1978) and Les hommes naissant tous le même jour: Crepuscule (1979). These novels, according to the author, were designed as imaginative explorations of twentieth-century western society and its people. The plots of the two novels are interconnected, following the same seven people of varying socio-economic backgrounds over a period of forty years. As the stories unfold across Europe, the United States, and South America, the characters grow up and mature amid some of the most decisive events of the twentieth-century. Le regard des femmes (1991) tells the story of Lisa and Philippe's disintegrating marriage against the backdrop of contemporary French society. In the novel La fontaine des innocents (1992), Anne-Marie Bermont, a divorced career woman, encounters Jonas, a street hoodlum. As the plot unfolds, the lives of Jonas, Anne-Marie, and the tenants of Anne-Marie's Paris apartment building begin to intersect. Eventually, all of the characters get an opportunity to tell their own troubled stories about how they manage to survive in the disintegrating Parisian society of the late twentieth century. Although Gallo's L'Amour au temps des solitudes (1993) is set in present-day France, the plot ranges from Nice to Antibes, Italy, and to war-torn Yugoslavia. An aging magazine director, Catherine Vance, and members of her family recall several tragic events in their lives. In order to avoid the painful memories, family members devote themselves to their careers. For example, Catherine is totally occupied with managing her magazine. Eventually, Catherine's daughter Jeanne and Jeanne's husband Vincent are able to rise above their painful pasts and experience a sense of hope and self-acceptance, which is sparked by the rescue of a small child from a burning building in war-torn Croatia.

Critical Reception

Most critics have applauded Gallo's command of contemporary western history in both his nonfiction and fictional works. These critics have also noted his straightforward and conversational journalistic style, and have compared his plot structures and story development with the works of Honore de Balzac. While some commentators have faulted his use of flash backs and flash forwards in such nonfictional works as The Night of Long Knives, other critics, such as Joseph Lee, have contended that Gallo knows how to turn history into "a rattling good yarn." Although some critics have pointed out occasional historical inaccuracies in Spain under Franco and have accused Gallo of relying too heavily on personal opinion to flesh out his portraits of Robespierre and Mussolini, other commentators have suggested that his fictional characters are well drawn, such as Marco Naldi in With the Victors and Anne-Marie Bermont of La fontaine des innocents. Finally, because he is able to present contemporary western history in an engaging manner, commentators have generally agreed that Gallo's nonfiction and fictional works contribute to a deeper understanding of the complexities of the people and history of the twentieth-century.

Principal Works

L'Italie de Mussolini: Vingt ans d'ere fasciste [Mussolini's Italy: Twenty Years of the Fascist Era] (nonfiction) 1964
La grand peur de 1989 [as Max Laugham] (nonfiction) 1966
L'affaire d'Ethiopie (nonfiction) 1967
Gauchisme, réformisme et révolution (nonfiction) 1968
Maximilien Robespierre, histoire d'une solitude [Robespierre the Incorruptible: A Psychobiography] (non-fiction) 1968
Histoire de l'Espagne franquiste [Spain under Franco] (nonfiction) 1969
La nuit des longs couteaux: 30 juin 1934 [The Night of Long Knives] (nonfiction) 1970
Au nom tous les miens [For Those I Loved] (nonfiction) 1971
Le cortège des vainqueurs [With the Victors] (novel) 1972
La Mafia, mythes et réalitiés (nonfiction) 1972
I manifestinella storia e nel costume [The Poster in History] (nonfiction) 1973
L'affiche miroir de l'historie [with Regis Delnay] (nonfiction) 1973
Demain l'Espagne [Dialogues on Spain] (nonfiction) 1974
L'oiseau de origines (novel) 1974
La baie des anges, Volume I (novel) 1975
La baie des anges: Le palais des fêtes, Volume II (novel) 1976
La baie des anges: La promenade de des Anglais, Volume III (novel) 1976
Santiago Carillo (nonfiction) 1976
Le pouvoir à vif, despotisme, démocratie et révolution, que sont les siécle pour la mer (novel) 1977
Régis Debray (nonfiction) 1977
Les hommes naissant tous le même jour: Aurore, Volume I (novel) 1978
Les hommes naissant tous le même jour: Crepuscule, Volume II (novel) 1979
Une affaire intime (nonfiction) 1979
Et ce fut l défaite de 40: La cinquième colonne (nonfiction) 1980
France (nonfiction) 1980
La bague magique (novel) 1981
Un crime très ordinaire (novel) 1982
Garibaldi: La force d'un destin (nonfiction) 1982
La demeure des puissants (nonfiction) 1983
Le cinquième colonne (nonfiction) 1984
Le grand Jaurès (nonfiction) 1984
Les idées décident de tout (nonfiction) 1984
La troisième alliance pour un nouvel individualisme (nonfiction) 1984
Le beau rivage (nonfiction) 1985
Belle époque (novel) 1986
Lettre ouverte à Maximilien Robespierre sur les nouveaux muscadins (nonfiction) 1986
La route Napoléon (novel) 1987
Que passe la justice du Roi: Vie, procès et supplice du chevalier de La Barre (nonfiction) 1987
Jules Vallès, ou, la révolte d'une vie (biography) 1988
Manifeste pour une fin de siècle obscure (nonfiction) 1989
La gauche est morte: Vive la gauche! (nonfiction) 1990
Le regard des femmes (novel) 1991
L'Europe contre l'Europe: Entretiens avec Eric Fournet et Olivier Spinelli (nonfiction) 1992
Une femme rebelle: Vie et mort de Rosa Luxemburg (nonfiction) 1992
La fontaine des innocents (novel) 1992
L'amour au temps des solitudes (novel) 1993
La condottiere (novel) 1994
Jè: Histoire modeste et héroïque d'un homme qui croyait aux lendemains qui chantent (novel) 1994
Les rois sans visage (novel) 1994


John P. Reid (review date 5 May 1972)

SOURCE: A review of Robespierre the Incorruptible: A Psychobiography, in Commonweal, Vol. XCVI, No. 9, May 5, 1972, pp. 219-20.

[In the following review, Reid favorably assesses Robespierre the Incorruptible, contending that it is a laudable study of the psychological aspects of Robespierre's character.]

The French Revolution was the first major political upheaval in the entire history of the Western nations to deserve the revolutionary epithet. This distinction says more about the relative inconsequence of centuries of successive and diverse political change and development than it does about the depth and seriousness of the events of 1789 and the years...

(The entire section is 959 words.)

Robert E. O'Brien (review date 1 August 1972)

SOURCE: A review of The Night of Long Knives, in Best Sellers, Vol. 32, No. 9, August 1, 1972, pp. 213-14.

[In the following favorable review of The Night of Long Knives, O'Brien discusses Gallo's use of historical documentation as a basis for understanding why Hitler liquidated several powerful allies.]

"The Führer himself is law and justice." It must be true that the will of the sovereign has the force of law, even if the sovereign is tyrant, or madman, or both. The above quotation is part of the writings of the Nazi jurist, Karl Schmitt, in justification of the wave of murder and assassination by which Hitler broke the power of the SA,...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

Joseph C. Harsch (review date 23 August 1972)

SOURCE: "Nazi History: The Haphazard Purge," in Christian Science Monitor, August 23, 1972, p. 11.

[Harsch was a journalist, news correspondent, and author of books on contemporary world politics. In the following favorable review of The Night of Long Knives, he comments on Gallo's literary style and his utilization of the historical record.]

Reporters called it "the night of the long knives." It happened in Germany on the night of June 29-30 in 1934 when Adolph Hitler allowed his fascist revolution to devour its own original children.

The devouring was a savage, ruthless, vindictive affair. What was conceived of as a means of purging the Nazi...

(The entire section is 550 words.)

Joseph Lee (review date 28 April 1973)

SOURCE: "Joseph Lee on Interpretations of Hitler, the Man," in The Spectator, Vol. 230, No. 7557, April 28, 1973, pp. 523-24.

[In the following excerpt of a review of several books on Hitler, Lee examines The Night of Long Knives, focusing on its literary style and historical credibility.]

Hitler is much the most fascinating politician of twentieth-century Europe. Stalin, with whom he is frequently compared, faced far fewer problems. Stalin never had to worry about his public. They were already prisoners of a system which Stalin had merely to capture, not to create. Hitler, on the other hand, had to woo a mass electorate, and intrigue for power from outside...

(The entire section is 1299 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 13 July 1973)

SOURCE: A review of The Night of Long Knives, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3723, July 13, 1973, p. 817.

[The following is a mixed review of The Night of Long Knives.]

The dramatic story of Hitler's purge of the SA on the night of June 29-30, 1934 is told by Max Gallo [in The Night of Long Knives] in a detailed "scenario in which time shifts both forward and backward, the past flowing into the present, the present moment containing the past", in an attempt "to recreate events not only in terms of general causes and political mechanisms, but also by evoking the attitudes, thoughts and faces of the various actors and … the skies and landscapes...

(The entire section is 283 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 2 November 1973)

SOURCE: "The Caudillo: A Strategy for Survival," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3739, November 2, 1973, p. 1336.

[In the following review, the critic favorably assesses Spain under Franco, applauding its detailed history of Francisco Franco's rise to power but faulting its examination of the inner workings of the Franco government.]

General Franco has long enjoyed favourable publicity in England. During the Spanish Civil War he was described by conservative and Catholic commentators as a crusader against barbarism, a defender of Western Civilization. In 1937, Douglas Jerrold wrote in his Georgian Adventure that Franco was "a supremely good man, a...

(The entire section is 1502 words.)

Elbridge Colby (review date 1 February 1974)

SOURCE: A review of Spain under Franco, in Best Sellers, Vol. 33, No. 21, February 1, 1974, pp. 482-83.

[Colby was an educator, journalist, and author of books about contemporary world politics. In the following review of Spain under Franco, he comments on Gallo's journalistic style and his mixing of historical fact with personal opinion.]

Having recently published a detailed and perceptive volume by this author on Italy under Mussolini, Dutton now comes along with a translation from the French of the same author's history of the Spanish under Franco. (The translation [of Spain under Franco] by Jean Stewart is done with all the ease of original...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

C. F. Latour (review date March 1974)

SOURCE: A review of The Night of Long Knives, in American Political Science Review, Vol. LXVIII, No. 1, March, 1974, pp. 300-01.

[In the following review, Latour states that despite some faults, The Night of Long Knives "is a fine tale of horror for the general reader."]

The Night of Long Knives by Max Gallo chronicles the liquidation of Ernst Röhm and associates, the destruction of the SA as an element of revolutionary political power in the Nazi state, and the gangland slaying of uncounted victims of political or personal vendettas carried out with great verve on June 29-30, 1934 by men then grasping for ascendancy in Hitler's regime…....

(The entire section is 398 words.)

Kurt J. Frohlich (review date 6 April 1974)

SOURCE: "The Dream of Empire, Again," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 218, No. 14, April 6, 1974, pp. 441-43.

[In the following review, Frohlich applauds Gallo's command of contemporary history in Mussolini's Italy.]

When on June 13, 1921, Mussolini, as deputy of the young Fascist Party, rose in the Italian Parliament and declared, "We deny that the history of mankind can be explained by economic determinism," he repudiated his Socialist past and opened the way for his new role. Italy with its colorful history of varied forms of small duchies and city republics had never lacked swashbuckling condottieri, and Professor Gallo in his book [Mussolini's Italy]...

(The entire section is 1402 words.)

José M. Sánchez (review date 18 May 1974)

SOURCE: A review of Spain under Franco, in America, Vol. 130, No. 19, May 18, 1974, pp. 403-04.

[Sánchez is an educator and author of books about Spanish politics and religion. In the following favorable review of Spain under Franco, he applauds Gallo's writing style and use of historical detail while faulting his one-sided view of Francisco Franco.]

At age 81, Francisco Franco has managed to stay in absolute power in Spain for 35 years, longer than any Spanish executive since Philip V in the early 18th century. He has controlled one of the most politically volatile people in Europe with threats and blandishments, but he has managed to stay on top....

(The entire section is 498 words.)

Edgar Lustgarten (review date July 1974)

SOURCE: "Demon into Clown," in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 19, No. 10, July 1974, p. 46.

[Lustgarten is a freelance writer and broadcaster. In the following review of Mussolini's Italy, he favorably assesses Gallo's writing style, historical competence, and biographical skill.]

Was Mussolini a Fascist? Or a Socialist? Or an Anarchist? In fits and starts, by twists and turns, all three. That, at any rate, would appear from the bare record of his political acts, his formal declarations. But [in Mussolini's Italy] Max Gallo's vivid portrait is that of a character less complex, and—in one sense—more consistent. He depicts Mussolini as an opportunist;...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 2 August 1974)

SOURCE: A review of Mussolini's Italy, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3778, August 2, 1974, p. 828.

[In the following review, the critic favorably comments on Mussolini's Italy, contending that it is good "popular" history.]

Max Gallo's book [Mussolini's Italy] does not claim to offer a distinctive interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism; it relies almost completely on secondary sources. M Gallo has written an unashamedly "popular" history, and his book should be judged in those terms. It is, in effect, a series of dramatic set-pieces linked by narrative; it ranges from Mussolini's errant and itinerant youth and early manhood, through the...

(The entire section is 369 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 19 August 1974)

SOURCE: A review of With the Victors, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 206, No. 8, August 19, 1974, p. 74.

[In the following review, the critic favorably assesses With the Victors.]

In this sensitive account, history and conjecture are imaginatively interwoven in the story of Marco Naldi, son of an Italian landowner. [With the Victors] begins in the fall of 1917 at the time of the Italian defeat at Caporetto. Marco's father is killed in the war and he is gruffly befriended by Ferri, one of his father's contemporaries, who later becomes a prominent Fascist. Marco enlists in the army in his father's place and also makes friends with Alatri, a Communist. In the...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

The New York Times Book Review (review date 6 October 1974)

SOURCE: A review of With the Victors, in The New York Times Book Review, October 6, 1974, p. 40.

[In the following unfavorable review, the critic assesses Gallo's literary style and development of characters in With the Victors.]

[In With the Victors] Max Gallo's Marco Naldi is one of those superheroes, like Robert Briffault's Julien Bern or Upton Sinclair's Lanny Budd, who leads a panoramic life on the stage of history. He meets world leaders in person, and makes the scene of big political happenings. Naldi starts as a lieutenant in the Arditi after Caporetto, and joins the fascist movement when the war is over. He becomes an aide to Mussolini's...

(The entire section is 290 words.)

Anne Hollander (review date 30 November 1974)

SOURCE: A review of The Poster in History, in Saturday Review, Vol. 2, No. 6, November 30, 1974, pp. 20-2, 24-5.

[Hollander is a lecturer in fine arts and author of the book Moving Pictures (1989). In the following excerpt, she reviews The Poster in History, contending that the book is a "sloppy treatment" of the subject.]

Poster art has a separate history, although, as we have seen, serious artists have lent their talents to the genre. The Poster in History, by Max Gallo …, is authored by a French historian of journalistic, rather than scholarly, accomplishments who has no art-historical background to speak of. The posters illustrating...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Virginia Crosby (review date February 1975)

SOURCE: A review of Le cortège des vainqueurs, in French Review, Vol. XLVIII, No. 3, February, 1975, pp. 664-65.

[In the following review of Le cortège des vainqueurs, Crosby praises the book's detailed historical setting and literary style but faults the poor character development.]

Sealed off by time from any further physical or moral actions of significance, an old man turns toward the past and to an accumulated sum of events whose finality is an accusing silence. In writing his life for his son Philippe, Marco Naldi is attempting to reach a young man he has never known and, at the same time, to release his spent life from the opacity of...

(The entire section is 688 words.)

Nancy M. O'Connor (review date October 1979)

SOURCE: A review of Les hommes naissent tous le même jour 1: Aurore, in The French Review, Vol. 53, No. 1, October, 1979, pp. 151-52.

[In the following review of Les hommes naissent tous le même jour 1; Aurore, O'Connor favorably assesses the book's literary style and plot but faults the character development.]

Max Gallo is a frequent contributor to the book review section of L'Express, and is well known as an historian of the Fascist years in Europe. Eight long novels written and published in the course of the last six years also make him a remarkably prolific novelist, and a successful one to judge by the regularity with which his books figure...

(The entire section is 694 words.)

Danielle Chavy Cooper (review date Summer 1993)

SOURCE: A review of La fontaine des innocents, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 3, Summer, 1993, pp. 583-84.

[In the following review of La fontaine des innocents, Cooper favorably assesses its plot, themes, and characters.]

On two levels, both factual and symbolic, the title of Max Gallo's massive new novel [La fontaine des innocents]—his nineteenth—solidly anchors the work in today's Paris, intimately allying the traditional and the new, as it is in the Halles district where the eponymous fountain is located. The very structure and development of Gallo's powerful novel as well as its overall theme are closely linked to the famous...

(The entire section is 859 words.)

Danielle Chavy Cooper (review date Autumn 1993)

SOURCE: A review of L'amour au temps des solitudes, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 4, Autumn, 1993, p. 772.

[In the following favorable review, Cooper comments on the character development and the mixture of history and fiction in L'amour au temps des solitudes.]

Over the last three decades Max Gallo has enjoyed a nonstop literary career, in both fiction and nonfiction, with some fifty titles to his credit, including best sellers and Livre de Poche reissues. As in his preceding novel, La Fontaine des Innocents … L'amour au temps des solitudes again intertwines contemporary history and fiction. "Tout y est imaginaire," the author declares. "Et...

(The entire section is 749 words.)

Richard Kopp (review date October 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Le regard des femmes, in The French Review, Vol. 67, No. 1, October, 1993, pp. 160-61.

[Kopp is an educator and author of books about French literature. In the following favorable review, he comments on the plot, themes, and literary style of Le regard des femmes.]

Max Gallo appears fascinated by the relationship between the public and private elements which make up human existence. He is capable of introducing the public individual and uncovering the hitherto unknown private facts which explain the public persona, but in the same manner he is capable of introducing the private individual and explaining the public facts not known previously...

(The entire section is 563 words.)

Further Reading


Adams, Phoebe. Review of The Night of Long Knives, by Max Gallo. Atlantic Monthly 230, No. 2 (August 1972): 92.

Favorably assesses The Night of Long Knives.

Gough, Hugh. "Genocide and the Bicentenary: The French Revolution and the Revenge of the Vendée." The Historical Journal 30, No. 4 (December 1987): 977-88.

Reviews Gallo's Lettre ouverte á Maximilien Robespierre sur les nouveaux muscadins and other books, reflecting on the French Revolution in its bicentenary year.

Rosselli, John. "Italian Centaur."...

(The entire section is 101 words.)