Léon Blum (1872-1950) during the socialist congress of 1927.(Gallica Digital Library via Wikipedia)

During his political career, Léon Blum—who served three short terms as French prime minister between 1936 and 1947—was derided by his detractors as “a woman,” a “weak Jew,” and even a traitor. Meanwhile, he was worshiped by many French workers, grateful to him for introducing the 40-hour work week, vacation time, and other legislation from his Socialist agenda. According to sociologist Pierre Birnbaum, author of the new biography Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist, none of these characterizations captures the complexity of this under-appreciated figure.

In an interview with Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry, Birnbaum describes Blum as a remarkably brave, intelligent, and unflappable leader, an early Zionist, a prescient anti-Communist, and proud Jew.