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Paris: The Biography of a City

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From the Roman Emperor Julian, who waxed rhapsodic about Parisian wine and figs, to Henry Miller, who relished its seductive bohemia, Paris has been a perennial source of fascination for 2,000 years. In this definitive and illuminating history, Colin Jones walks us through the city that was a plague-infested charnel house during the Middle Ages, the bloody epicenter of the From the Roman Emperor Julian, who waxed rhapsodic about Parisian wine and figs, to Henry Miller, who relished its seductive bohemia, Paris has been a perennial source of fascination for 2,000 years. In this definitive and illuminating history, Colin Jones walks us through the city that was a plague-infested charnel house during the Middle Ages, the bloody epicenter of the French Revolution, the muse of nineteenth-century Impressionist painters, and much more. Jones’s masterful narrative is enhanced by numerous photographs and feature boxes—on the Bastille or Josephine Baker, for instance—that complete a colorful and comprehensive portrait of a place that has endured Vikings, Black Death, and the Nazis to emerge as the heart of a resurgent Europe. This is a thrilling companion for history buffs and backpack, or armchair, travelers alike.


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From the Roman Emperor Julian, who waxed rhapsodic about Parisian wine and figs, to Henry Miller, who relished its seductive bohemia, Paris has been a perennial source of fascination for 2,000 years. In this definitive and illuminating history, Colin Jones walks us through the city that was a plague-infested charnel house during the Middle Ages, the bloody epicenter of the From the Roman Emperor Julian, who waxed rhapsodic about Parisian wine and figs, to Henry Miller, who relished its seductive bohemia, Paris has been a perennial source of fascination for 2,000 years. In this definitive and illuminating history, Colin Jones walks us through the city that was a plague-infested charnel house during the Middle Ages, the bloody epicenter of the French Revolution, the muse of nineteenth-century Impressionist painters, and much more. Jones’s masterful narrative is enhanced by numerous photographs and feature boxes—on the Bastille or Josephine Baker, for instance—that complete a colorful and comprehensive portrait of a place that has endured Vikings, Black Death, and the Nazis to emerge as the heart of a resurgent Europe. This is a thrilling companion for history buffs and backpack, or armchair, travelers alike.

30 review for Paris: The Biography of a City

  1. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    This book's front cover proudly features a quote by Neil McGregor, director of the British Museum, who called this book "Exhilarating." Sounds like a good enough recommendation, but let's consider the source: generally, the sort of people who become directors of world-famous museums are also the sort of people who think that looking at pottery shards is exhilarating. What I'm trying to say here is that while Paris: The Biography of a City is certainly interesting for those who really want to This book's front cover proudly features a quote by Neil McGregor, director of the British Museum, who called this book "Exhilarating." Sounds like a good enough recommendation, but let's consider the source: generally, the sort of people who become directors of world-famous museums are also the sort of people who think that looking at pottery shards is exhilarating. What I'm trying to say here is that while Paris: The Biography of a City is certainly interesting for those who really want to learn about the history of Paris from pre-Roman times to modern day, it's not exactly going to keep you on the edge of your seat. The problem, of course, is that Paris has such a varied, rich, and long history that the best Jones can do is give us the cliff notes of Paris - he even admits in the preface that he's had to work really hard to focus his information just on Paris itself, eliminating anything that doesn't relate directly to the city and the changes that it and its people have gone through over time. The result is that Jones has to completely ignore anything that didn't happen in Paris (so the period of Louis XIV to XVI is basically skipped right over, since the monarchy was based in Versailles at the time) and rush through all the important stuff so quickly we barely notice it. The Revolution doesn't even get a whole chapter, the Romans are basically a footnote, and we go from Henri of Navarre to Louis XIV in the space of a chapter. Throughout all of this, Jones sprinkles the book with annoyingly tantalizing bits of stories that he doesn't have the time to go into, like this: "In the mid- to late 1880's, however, this moment of relative calm in Parisian politics was overturned by a political shooting star, General Boulanger, a kind of intellectually challenged Napoleon. His call for constitutional revision and a war of revenge against the German empire won a good deal of electoral support among working- as well as middle-class Parisians. By 1891, however, the general had shot his bolt (and indeed himself, on his mistress's tomb) but the 1890's would see the emergence of new sources of political instability." Wait a minute, go back! He shot himself on his mistress's tomb? I want to read more about that! But you can't, because that's the first and last that we hear about General Boulanger, and before you can say "slow your roll, Jones" we're moving on to the Dreyfus Affair, which I still don't understand because it lasted a paragraph. The book does have some good things going for it: first, Jones devotes an impressive amount of space (especially considering how quickly he has to go through all his information) to discussing the emergence and growth of the banlieues, the Parisian suburbs that have, by this point, become larger than Paris itself. It was nice that he didn't just focus his story on the tourist idea of Paris, but acknowledged the less-picturesque aspects of it. On a related note, my favorite section came towards the end of the book, when Jones discusses the Algerian fight for independence and how the residents of Paris reacted to the conflict. Did you know that there was a massive pro-Algeria demonstration in Paris in 1961, and the police killed almost 200 protestors, either by beating them to death or drowning them in the Seine? Did you know that the French government didn't even acknowledge that this had happened until 1999? I didn't, and it was mind-blowing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Writing a book about a place with as storied a history and culture as Paris can't be easy, but I found this an absorbing read. From Paris's prehistoric origins through to modern times, Jones examines how the city has developed over the centuries in great detail, looking at politics, society, culture, and geography. It's organized generally in chronological order, but each chapter also includes several "feature boxes", which are essentially sidebars covering in more detail specific topics, such Writing a book about a place with as storied a history and culture as Paris can't be easy, but I found this an absorbing read. From Paris's prehistoric origins through to modern times, Jones examines how the city has developed over the centuries in great detail, looking at politics, society, culture, and geography. It's organized generally in chronological order, but each chapter also includes several "feature boxes", which are essentially sidebars covering in more detail specific topics, such as the Louvre, the Marais, and Madame de Sévigné.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Eames

    For the flâneur off his feet. The conceit of biography is peculiar, since the citys former incarnation as Lutetia was more of a former identity than a past life, but does lend the central chapters an added amusement as Paris reels from crisis to Middle Age crisis. Jones has a flair for phrasing and a holistic handling of history, observing, for instance, that the death of Louis VIs heir, unsaddled in the street by a runaway pig, was an odd first in the colourful history of Parisian traffic For the flâneur off his feet. The conceit of ‘biography’ is peculiar, since the city’s former incarnation as Lutetia was more of a former identity than a past life, but does lend the central chapters an added amusement as Paris reels from crisis to Middle Age crisis. Jones has a flair for phrasing and a holistic handling of history, observing, for instance, that the death of Louis VI’s heir, unsaddled in the street by a runaway pig, was ‘an odd first in the colourful history of Parisian traffic accidents’. Who knew there was a street named Rue Pute-y-Muse (‘Whore-Hides-Here’)?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Colin Jones's history of Paris is subtitled "The Biography of a City," yet the book he provides is virtually the opposite. For rather than providing an intimate portrait of the city through the ages, what he offers is an account of the city within the context of the nation's history. This is understandable given Paris's role in France's development, though as Jones demonstrates Paris wasn't always the center of authority in the country. It wasn't until the high Middle Ages that Paris was Colin Jones's history of Paris is subtitled "The Biography of a City," yet the book he provides is virtually the opposite. For rather than providing an intimate portrait of the city through the ages, what he offers is an account of the city within the context of the nation's history. This is understandable given Paris's role in France's development, though as Jones demonstrates Paris wasn't always the center of authority in the country. It wasn't until the high Middle Ages that Paris was transformed from a modest river crossing into the capital of a kingdom, after which it grew spectacularly with the fortunes of the realm. Though Jones is good at summarizing the city's early centuries, his chapters on Paris in the 18th and 19th centuries are the strongest. This is understandable, given that he specializes in the era, but his focus on this period (over half of the book's chapters are about the post-1715 era) has the effect of unbalancing his coverage somewhat. Still, his achievement is impressive, as he offers a impressively wide-raging account of the city's social and cultural evolution drawn form the existing French- and English-language literature on the metropolis. This is by far the best overall history of Paris available in English, one that is necessary reading for anyone interested in the "City of Light" and how it evolved into the place it is today.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This books greatest strength and weakness is that it is one of the most thorough overviews on the city of Paris history that has been written yet. Unlike many it goes into wonderful detail on the early years of Paris and the build up on the Isle de cite. One of the other drawbacks is that the maps of Paris in the back are just okay but if you have a Paris travel book with good maps you will be better served for following the authors descriptions. The downside to the detail is that you can get This books greatest strength and weakness is that it is one of the most thorough overviews on the city of Paris history that has been written yet. Unlike many it goes into wonderful detail on the early years of Paris and the build up on the Isle de cite. One of the other drawbacks is that the maps of Paris in the back are just okay but if you have a Paris travel book with good maps you will be better served for following the authors descriptions. The downside to the detail is that you can get bogged down very easily and lose the authors main point with all of the detail. The book tends to glaze over the post world war II era and I would have liked more explanation of the reconstruction efforts. Overall it was an excellent summary of Parisian history and put Paris in the context of the entire country. There are many books like this that offer the biography of the city and I would put this one in the middle of those. It is hard to have a very strong opinion of this book since it was neither amazing nor terrible. For those looking to learn some more about the history of the city or those who want another perspective on French history it is probably worth a read but for the general consumer on European history it is probably worth a pass.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I read it and may even re-read it. This is just what it says: the biography of the city of Paris. The book is about how Paris came to be starting with early settlement on an island in the Seine and its banks, ever outward to fields and villages whose names remain with us, like Belleville and Montmartre. It is a story of change, which will truly dispel the idea that Paris is frozen in time. The huge cast of characters who shaped the city includes nobles, workers, politicians, revolutionaries, I read it and may even re-read it. This is just what it says: the biography of the city of Paris. The book is about how Paris came to be starting with early settlement on an island in the Seine and its banks, ever outward to fields and villages whose names remain with us, like Belleville and Montmartre. It is a story of change, which will truly dispel the idea that Paris is frozen in time. The huge cast of characters who shaped the city includes nobles, workers, politicians, revolutionaries, rabble-rousers, saints, monks, students, scientists, gifted engineers and bold architects. But their stories are only told in so far as they shaped the look and layout of the city with its parks, palaces, graveyards, boulevards, walls, markets, humble homes, grand hotels, squares, and factories. The city is the star here. The author packs in a lot of information and the reader would be well served by having a detailed map of the city handy while reading. This is not for those wanting a causal introduction to the city, but rather for those hungry for more detail. It was a worthwhile read, though I will admit sometimes I felt I was treading water and hoping to make it through some of the sections I found slow going. This is a hearty meal, not a light lunch. It is filling and satisfying.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Doug Newdick

    Firstl, this is not an easy read. The lack of a narrative or set of events to tie this book together means that I struggled to read it from cover to cover. Having said that, the different sections were often fascinating, and I did really enjoy it. I felt I learned a lot about Paris and France, and now have a renewed interest in visting again. Colin Jones has created a book full of depth, one that shows you the changing face of Paris over time. I felt that I really understood the way that the Firstl, this is not an easy read. The lack of a narrative or set of events to tie this book together means that I struggled to read it from cover to cover. Having said that, the different sections were often fascinating, and I did really enjoy it. I felt I learned a lot about Paris and France, and now have a renewed interest in visting again. Colin Jones has created a book full of depth, one that shows you the changing face of Paris over time. I felt that I really understood the way that the different factors have shaped Paris, giving it a unique and fascinating character. Heartily recommended for those who are intereted in Paris, and French culture.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    Very comprehensive history of Paris starting around 50 BC when it was known as Lutetia by Julius Caesar. Enjoyable to those who are familiar with and have a great interest in the city's past, but more of a reference to the average tourist. I found much of this book very interesting especially since I recently spent a lot of time wandering around this amazing city. It tends to get somewhat dry in places, but overall a worthy read as the biography that it is.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Really, really good. If you've been to Paris, it's far more interesting. I did find that the author got really bogged down into the details of city planning from the mid-1800s and continues for the last 50 pages of the book and yet he seems to gloss over major events like the Revolution, Napoleon's ascension, the World Wars. But someone renames a street and he spends two 'graphs talking about it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joyce Reynolds-Ward

    Superb history focused on the growth and development of the history of Paris! Part of me wishes I'd read this before I went to Paris, but a greater part is well aware that it means more being able to make the appropriate connections as I read it. This is also one of those reads that makes learning fun. I learned a lot about unexpected things (what a diligence looks like, and its size) as well as things I'd expected to learn.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Florence May

    The most interesting in depth study of Paris ... Infrastructure, intellectuals, daily life, relationship with royalty, conflicts, growth, education, trash, health .... Everything Parisian. Enjoyed the sidebar stories. Not an easy read but fascinating as preparation for my 10 day trip through the various arrondissement.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Suvi

    Damn, it was a real chore at times. Too much in a list form to keep me interested the whole time.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    an excellent history of Paris from it's earliest beginnings as a tiny Roman settlement to the present day. I read this while on holiday in Paris!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jon Riekenberg

    I really like Paris and I want to like this book, but holy boring book, Batman! I've stopped reading this for now and moved on.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    I started this book because I wanted to know as much as possible about Paris before I went, but it was really too in depth and I ended up not being able to finish it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    Excellent, easy to read history of Paris.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    I never read straight up history books but I am not exactly sure that is what this was, I mean I guess it is? I don't know. Whatever. Anyway, I recently traveled to Paris on my honeymoon and discovered a bookstore that had been operating since 1801 and was selling livres Anglais (English books). So naturally, I went in to browse. We had been wandering around Paris for the better part of a week at this point learning all about the rich history of the city. Everything we learned was so captivating I never read straight up history books but I am not exactly sure that is what this was, I mean I guess it is? I don't know. Whatever. Anyway, I recently traveled to Paris on my honeymoon and discovered a bookstore that had been operating since 1801 and was selling livres Anglais (English books). So naturally, I went in to browse. We had been wandering around Paris for the better part of a week at this point learning all about the rich history of the city. Everything we learned was so captivating to me, I just wanted to know more. In addition, I was already a big fan of Tolstoy's ‘War and Peace’ so any reference to Napoleon I and the war of 1812 was extra exciting to me. That is what led me to the history section of ‘Librairie Galignani’ and ultimately to this book. I began reading it immediately but it was a bit too rigid and dry for a Parisian honeymoon so I decided to bring it home and continue to read it at a later date. I really enjoyed learning about the Roman history of Paris and about the Vikings pillaging the city, it was remarkable to have a place to reference when reading the book, something about knowing it actually occurred where we stood made it more fascinating and realistic. I also enjoyed learning more about Napoleon I, Napoleon III, King Henry IV, King Louis XIV and King Louis XVI as well as the French Revolutions (of which there were many), the various and frequent plagues the city faced and the religious conflicts. At one point when describing the revolution in 1793, Jones tells us the ground of the Place de la Concorde was so soaked with blood from la guillotine the leaders of the revolution were very concerned about it getting into the water supply below the streets. We stood there, right on the Place de la Concorde where the revolutionaries guillotined over 2,700 aristocrats. It just amazes me, so eerie. There never seems to have been an extended period of peace and prosperity in Paris, literally ever. I spent some time thinking of which era I would choose if I was able to choose one to grow up in Paris but there was literally not one point in time that didn't seem dismal in some way. Even what is referred to as "la belle epoque" was riddled with plague, poverty, and a transient government. Anyway, in conclusion the history of Paris is much grittier, darker and more dismal than I could have ever assumed, I now have a new understanding of time and feel that America is a very young country and I am still memorized and itching to get back to Paris as soon as I can. This book did a great job outlining all of the major events and giving you a bite sized history of it all. I really enjoyed the literary references and am looking forward to reading Zola, Hugo and Balzac now. The book was a bit date heavy and talked a lot of architecture and street name changes and what not which got tedious but other than that I enjoyed it, it was more difficult to read the a fiction novel but I am glad I now know more about a city I love so much.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dave Ciskowski

    An excellent overview of the history of Paris, with a unique approach thats both engaging and informative. The book is structured around the linear history of Paris - the people, kings, political movements, and notable events - but Jones focuses these stories on how they affect the city and its structures. This makes for a book about the city of Paris and not the nation or its rulers or politics. The result is a strong sense of place; Jones draws direct connections to specific locations, and An excellent overview of the history of Paris, with a unique approach that’s both engaging and informative. The book is structured around the linear history of Paris - the people, kings, political movements, and notable events - but Jones focuses these stories on how they affect the city and its structures. This makes for a book about the city of Paris and not the nation or its rulers or politics. The result is a strong sense of place; Jones draws direct connections to specific locations, and builds an understanding of how history shaped not just the city as a whole, but individual districts and streets and squares. It would be a fascinating exercise to sit in a square and trace its appearances through the book. (I’m not completely certain the index is fully up to the task, but the book will also reward repeat browsing and skipping around.) It’s not written as a mass-market popular history, and the prose might be a bit dry for more casual readers. Yet the stories are lively enough in themselves that it will satisfy most readers. Perhaps the perfect book for the English-language visitor who wants to understand what shaped the city in front of him or her.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Exceptionally researched. It would take me over a year to read this book well. If you're looking for a light narrative of Paris, this is not the book for you. If minutiae that diverges and converges and leaves you feeling unfocused and scrambling for Point A (because you often feel lost and unfocused whilst reading), then this book is for you.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    A lightning tour through time. I feel I know her better now, which has colored my past and will glimmer in my future.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bap

    This book is a biography of a city from Roman times to the present day. It is uneven but is worth sticking with it. He warms to the task in covering that great urban planner Haussmann who together with Napoleon III, remade the city and began what we call urbanism, he targeted the revitalization of the center city and build broad boulevards radiating out of the city. He also built beautiful train stations with the idea of radiating out by rail to reinforce that Paris was the heart of the country. This book is a biography of a city from Roman times to the present day. It is uneven but is worth sticking with it. He warms to the task in covering that great urban planner Haussmann who together with Napoleon III, remade the city and began what we call urbanism, he targeted the revitalization of the center city and build broad boulevards radiating out of the city. He also built beautiful train stations with the idea of radiating out by rail to reinforce that Paris was the heart of the country. He also displaced 350,000 people and generally began a process of driving working class people from the central areas of the city. The idea of sanitizing the city was premature as Napoleon III was swept out of the city in 1870 after losing a war to the Germans causing the workers to rise again as they had in 1789, 1830, and 1848. The communards were massacred as the Prussians stepped aside and let the French army regroup to retake the city. The Haussmann ideas returned and Paris was a magnificent city on the eve of WW I. The shock of two world wars and the depression left France down in the heels until it experienced another Rennaissance and revival beginning in the mid 1950's. This book will take you on a historical tour that includes Viking raids, mobs parading outside of the prison where Marie Antoinette was held with the head of her best friend on a pike; a police riot in the early 60's where hundreds of algerian protesters were murdered, their bodies thrown into the Seine, along with explanations how neighborhoods rose and fell with developers.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Having read the description and a number if positive 5 star reviews of this book, I chose it to develop my understanding of Paris as a city before a recent trip. I was expecting a mix of geographical history, economic history and social history, with more of a leaning towards the latter. I was disappointed. It is mainly geographical history, an overview of Paris's town planning over the millennia. For me it lacked the personal. There wasn't enough time given to how changes in the physicality of Having read the description and a number if positive 5 star reviews of this book, I chose it to develop my understanding of Paris as a city before a recent trip. I was expecting a mix of geographical history, economic history and social history, with more of a leaning towards the latter. I was disappointed. It is mainly geographical history, an overview of Paris's town planning over the millennia. For me it lacked the personal. There wasn't enough time given to how changes in the physicality of the city affected the people who lived there. People seem incidental to the streets and buildings they interact with. The dry tone of the book sent me to sleep on more than one occasion. I read the Kindle version, and the structure of side panels didn't work at all well. I can imagine that, with a physical book, flipping between the main narrative and the incidental asides would be easier. In the Kindle version, they interrupt the flow of the narrative - mainly because they're plonked into the text and are more interesting, so that when the main narrative resumes, there is a moment of disorientation. I wish the whole book had been more on the model of the side panels. Having said that, the author has carried out extensive research, knows his subject and seems passionate about the geographical history of the city. If that's what you're looking for, this is undoubtedly a good choice. If, like me, you're after more social history, you'll probably wind up wishing you'd bought Alistair Horne's book. I'd like to give it 2.5 stars but Goodreads won't let me!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Finch

    A good, solid tour through Parisian history, starting with Roman times and proceeding through the turn of this new century. Jones does an excellent job of navigating the tricky intersection between national and local politics that has made the city's history so complex, and particularly shines in his recounting of the time between Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte. Much attention is justly paid to the architecture and the preservationist campaigns in Paris, particularly as it relates to A good, solid tour through Parisian history, starting with Roman times and proceeding through the turn of this new century. Jones does an excellent job of navigating the tricky intersection between national and local politics that has made the city's history so complex, and particularly shines in his recounting of the time between Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte. Much attention is justly paid to the architecture and the preservationist campaigns in Paris, particularly as it relates to Haussmann, but there is a disappointing lack of corresponding detail for the cultural side of the city, at least aside from Victor Hugo and Josephine Baker. He also barely mentions Catherine de Medici and does not give the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre the attention I expected it to receive. Another event that receives only glancing treatment is the deportation of thousands of Jews during World War II -- in fact, there is almost no mention of any Jews in the city's history at all up until the 1940s, which makes it all the more jarring when it makes a sudden appearance in the context of the Holocaust. Even the Dreyfus affair is told more through the lens of the Christians who fell into Dreyfusard and anti-Dreyfusard camps than on the man whose life was actually hanging in the balance. Overall, an intelligent but only fitfully engaging rendering of the history of one of my favorite places in the world.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This really is a brilliant biography of one of my favourite cities. It makes me want to visit over and over again as well as help me to understand how the city "is like it is". Not the sort of book you devour in one sitting; more a book to dip into in between other books. I found that to get the most out of it I would read small parts at a time; there is so much detail and so much nuance. While organised in a broad timeline it does jump backwards and forwards within a century in order to tell This really is a brilliant biography of one of my favourite cities. It makes me want to visit over and over again as well as help me to understand how the city "is like it is". Not the sort of book you devour in one sitting; more a book to dip into in between other books. I found that to get the most out of it I would read small parts at a time; there is so much detail and so much nuance. While organised in a broad timeline it does jump backwards and forwards within a century in order to tell the story. Sometimes this is difficult to follow (particularly if reading while tired) but it is overall a great technique to get the complexity of the history across. Now I'd love to read the same style for some other cities - Barcelona, Rome, New York, London... for starters.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    The other reviews are pretty dead on - very thorough, and I loved the discussion about the "sites of memory" in the intro and throughout the book (not that it's a novel subject, but I find that just knowing which places are identified by these terms - and who identifies them - reveals a lot about a place's history). The maps could've been better and should've been interspersed with the writing, and a lot of pictures had no captions. It's a LOT of information at once, and, as others have pointed The other reviews are pretty dead on - very thorough, and I loved the discussion about the "sites of memory" in the intro and throughout the book (not that it's a novel subject, but I find that just knowing which places are identified by these terms - and who identifies them - reveals a lot about a place's history). The maps could've been better and should've been interspersed with the writing, and a lot of pictures had no captions. It's a LOT of information at once, and, as others have pointed out, the last 50 years get glossed over quite quickly, but overall a well-written and interesting read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Evan Snyder

    Read this for my summer history class about the history of Paris. This tells you EVERYTHING you could possibly want to know about this history of the city, sometimes in exhausting detail. Some of that level of detail I could have done without. A bit slow and tedious reading at times, but overall interesting. Good for a class, but I wouldn't recommend picking it up on your own if you want a little context for your trip to Paris. Get Rick Steves for that (haven't read his Paris book, but I enjoyed Read this for my summer history class about the history of Paris. This tells you EVERYTHING you could possibly want to know about this history of the city, sometimes in exhausting detail. Some of that level of detail I could have done without. A bit slow and tedious reading at times, but overall interesting. Good for a class, but I wouldn't recommend picking it up on your own if you want a little context for your trip to Paris. Get Rick Steves for that (haven't read his Paris book, but I enjoyed the tidbits that I read of his Rome book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shane Senécal-Tremblay

    I love this book. My girlfriend and I took turns reading this while living together in Paris. It was so well written, and fully captivated throughout. More, it unlocked a new depth of appreciation for the best city in the world. From the citys humble beginnings as a muddy island on île de la cite (home to the Parisi people) to its time as a Roman backwater (when it was Lutetia) ... through the merging of Montmartre and Paris, the Haussmann mass urban renovation, to today. Not a boring page. Ive I love this book. My girlfriend and I took turns reading this while living together in Paris. It was so well written, and fully captivated throughout. More, it unlocked a new depth of appreciation for the best city in the world. From the city’s humble beginnings as a muddy island on île de la cite (home to the Parisi people) to its time as a Roman backwater (when it was Lutetia) ... through the merging of Montmartre and Paris, the Haussmann mass urban renovation, to today. Not a boring page. I’ve not looked at any city without a systematic imagination of its development since. J’adore!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lynda

    This is not a light read. You have to want to know everything there is to know about Paris. I have to wonder how easy it would have been to read if I had never been to Paris and didn't know much about the city. Despite all of this I liked the book. It was interesting and filled with a lot of minutia that I did not know. Parts of the book are engrossing, but it is mainly a dry read. Recommended for people who love travel and history.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike Clinton

    This is a straightforward historical narrative of the development of Paris since the earliest years of its habitation, written in an engaging style and supplemented with several additional 2-3 page subtopics per chapter that provide additional color and detail about an aspect of Parisian life and history relevant to that chapter's focus. It made an excellent companion to Graham Robb's more idiosyncratic "Parisans: An Adventure History of Paris."

  30. 4 out of 5

    James

    A very long, somewhat exhausting, scholarly but almost always entertaining read. The chronological narrative is leavened by boxes on topics that are useful detours on subjects ranging from the Louvre to Josephine Baker. A fine book from which I learned a lot that will enhance my appreciation and understanding of Paris. But maybe too long for most casual readers, and I could have done with less detail on the early years and more on the 19th and 20th centuries.

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