This is a reference among Malraux's writings, because it describes perfectly his own obsessions. Malraux has traveled a lot, and has experienced a lot of different concepts, and a lot of different situations.
He started by exporting stolen antiques in Thailand, and spent some time in prison there. He was a convinced communist, and went to several countries, where revolution were occuring in the 50s. He finally became a ministry of Charles de Gaulles, who is the symbol of liberal people in France. His ashes were recently transfered to the Pantheon by Jacques Chirac, as an acknowledge to his work, as a writer, and as a politician.
Malraux loved to build his books around historical situations, where it appeared clearly they were made by individual contributions.
This also might be one of Malraux's obsessions. Where does the individual stands in a nation. What importance should be given to the collective organism when it has to be opposed to the interests of a particular individual ?
During his life, Malraux seems to have explored all the range of possibilities, moving from a concept to another.
La Condition humaine really shows all the ambiguity of this duality Collective/Individual.
Some characters are folded up on themselves, and might represent the extreme individuality, some other die for the good of an idea, and might represent the collectivity. But at the end of the book, no one has achieved to find the Answer.
If you would like to learn about the French culture, I would highly recommend this book, for three reasons. First Malraux did a lot of interesting things at the end of the 60's, as a ministry of culture, and so impacted the current French culture. Second, the duality between collective / individual is something that perfectly describes France itself, and is the heart of the current situation of this country. And third, the book itself is really well written, and a pleasure to read.