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Mead approaches the Opera through Garnier's life. In a careful analysis of the Second Empire's intellectual climate, he provides a new interpretation of the genesis of the Opera's style. Mead reconstructs in detail the social, political, intellectual, professional, and industrial circumstances of Garnier's career as they were expressed through the Opera's design and construction. He shows that with the Paris Opera, Charles Garnier revived French classicism by insisting on its necessary evolution to a modern expression of its time, and on its empathetic origins in the rich complexities of human experience.