AAPA member Peter Gumbel’s latest book France’s Got Talent is a stinging critique of the pervasive French culture of elitism, and its unfortunate consequences.


For the tiny number selected to attend France’s elite schools like the Ecole Nationale d’Administration and the Ecole Polytechnique the rewards are huge. These top education factories produce the self-confident, sometimes arrogant, people at the pinnacle of society, the government ministers and especially the civil servants in their cabinets, the CEOs of companies, the top financiers. They tend to be the same sort of people from the same schools who take part in competitive exams for which they have been prepared since childhood.

However, the author notes that those chosen aren’t always the best suited for the role, while the losers are marked for life.  While this culture is able to produce a tiny number of brilliant and charming men and women who constitute the ruling class, it leaves the vast majority of the population frustrated, de-motivated or feeling discarded, he says.

Peter Gumbel speaks with some inside knowledge having spent time lecturing at Science Po as well as having been part of the school’s administration. He argues that, at a time when France is struggling to maintain its place in the world, this elitist culture is a handicap, not an advantage.

“France is badly served by its elites. They are brilliant at writing reports, but much less skilled at putting the conclusions into practice. In business, companies with an “old-boy” network of directors who went to the same schools perform relatively poorly. In the public sector, France’s elite has missed out on some of the most important developments of the past two decades to improve the efficiency and transparency of public administration,” he says.

Peter Gumbel’s web site: www.petergumbel.fr<http://www.petergumbel.fr>
English e-book edition and French paper edition entitled “Elite Academy: Enquête sur la France malade de ses grandes écoles” and published by Denoël are both available on Amazon.