Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918

Overview

A preeminent writer on Paris, John Baxter brilliantly brings to life one of the most dramatic and fascinating periods in the city's history. During World War I, the terrifying sounds of the nearby front could be heard from inside the French capital; Germany's "Paris Gun" and enemy aviators routinely bombarded the city.

And yet in its darkest hour, the City of Light blazed more brightly than ever. Its taxis shuttled troops to the front; its great railway stations received ...

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Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918

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Overview

A preeminent writer on Paris, John Baxter brilliantly brings to life one of the most dramatic and fascinating periods in the city's history. During World War I, the terrifying sounds of the nearby front could be heard from inside the French capital; Germany's "Paris Gun" and enemy aviators routinely bombarded the city.

And yet in its darkest hour, the City of Light blazed more brightly than ever. Its taxis shuttled troops to the front; its great railway stations received reinforcements from across the world; its grand museums and cathedrals housed the wounded; and the Eiffel Tower hummed at all hours, relaying messages to and from the trenches. At night, Parisians lived with urgency and without inhibition, embracing the lush and the libertine. The rich hosted parties that depleted their wine cellars of the finest vintages. Artists such as Pablo Picasso achieved new creative heights. And the war brought a wave of foreigners to the city for the first time, including Ernest Hemingway and Baxter's own grandfather, Archie, whose diaries he uses to reconstruct a soldier's-eye view of the war years.

Uncovering a thrilling chapter in Paris's history, John Baxter's revelatory new book shows how this extraordinary period was essential in forging the spirit of the city we love today.

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Editorial Reviews

Anton Gill
“An intimate memoir of his grandfather’s experiences of that war. ... All this is done with Baxter’s inimitable lightness of touch and conversational style, which often belies the profound knowledge he has of his adoptive city.”
Kevin Jackson
“The most original and unexpectedly beguiling account of the Great War I have ever read. John Baxter is one of the master storytellers of our age ... A revelation, an adventure, a joy to read.”
Sydney Morning Herald
“Captivating…. In the series of vignettes and anecdotes that make up this elegant and sophisticated book, Baxter reveals an encyclopaedic knowledge of the City of Light.”
New York Times Book Review
“A lively Parisian narrative. ... Engaging.”
Washington Post
“Well-researched and entertaining. ... The content is compelling and the writing vivid. … Baxter’s anecdotes and observations are consistently enlightening.”
The Australian
“Engaging. ... An entertaining story of wartime Paris, and of Baxter’s search to find his heritage within it.”
Kevin Jackson
“The most original and unexpectedly beguiling account of the Great War I have ever read. ... A revelation, an adventure, a joy to read.”
Library Journal
04/15/2014
Part memoir, part history, and part cultural travelog, this accessible titile captures the sights, sounds, and feel of Paris through brief vignettes on a variety of themes. Baxter, a film biographer, critic, and author of four best-selling memoirs about life in France, uses his Australian grandfather's diaries to present a soldier's view of life during the war. This richly illustrated volume portrays the euphoria of the war's first days; the way buildings and transport vehicles were adapted to house and carry the wounded; French attitudes toward the Germans and Americans in their midst; the vices and sex trade that provided diversions for soldiers and visitors; even the thriving postcard business that emerged to send news back home. VERDICT General readers and Francophiles will enjoy this breezy look at life in the City of Light during the Great War.—Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-19
Australian transplant and longtime Paris resident Baxter (The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris, 2011) has spent years trying to discover what it was that changed his grandfather so much when he returned from World War I. Grandpa Archie left his young family, rejected his former job and never mentioned the war; he only occasionally said, ça ne fait rien (it makes no difference). Was he injured; did he suffer or commit horrors; did he desert; did he fall in love? During his many years in Paris, the author only found a few facts with the help of a military historian. Within Archie's story, the author intersperses descriptions of Paris and its artistic occupants during the Great War. For most Parisians, French or not, the war didn't seem real; it was a show, entertainment for their picnics. Most residents were only concerned with the moment. Despite shortages, the theater muddled on, dinner parties were noted for the clever conversations rather than the cooking, and bombs were mostly ignored. Only the French could make austerity chic. "Far from rejecting pain," he writes, "[Paris] embraced it, transformed it." Throughout the narrative, Baxter jumps back and forth to England, where the Australian forces were based before traveling to the front and returned for recovery. The no-nonsense Aussies were quick to start a fight and didn't take any guff from anyone, even officers, and the botched leadership at the beginning of the war would no doubt have caused a mutiny. This book is as much about searching for Grandpa Archie's life as it is about Paris and England during the war. In lesser hands, the narrative could have easily become confusing, even boring, but Baxter carries it off with aplomb. An enjoyable, swift read, and the author's final solution to Archie's wartime dilemma makes it as fun as a work of historical fiction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062221407
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/15/2014
  • Series: P.S.
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 124,368
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

John Baxter has lived in Paris for more than twenty years. He is the author of four acclaimed memoirs about his life in France: The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France; The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris; Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas; and We'll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light. Baxter, who gives literary walking tours through Paris, is also a film critic and biographer whose subjects have included the directors Fellini, Kubrick, Woody Allen, and most recently, Josef von Sternberg. Born in Australia, he lives with his wife and daughter in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, in the same building Sylvia Beach called home.

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