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Paris: The Biography of a City


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 ...

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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 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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jones, a historian at Britain's University of Warwick, has written a remarkable account of the most celebrated city in the world that blends history, literary sensibility and experience in an understated, affectionate but not sentimental voice. Moving from prehistoric tribal habitation through Roman times, medieval uncertainty and splendor, early modern religious wars, Enlightenment, revolution, and two world wars, Jones examines how rulers, economy, religion and violence have shaped the city. With a concrete sense of place, he evokes the layering of history revealed in the monuments and less visible remnants of the past. While one might deplore the loss of an earlier Paris in wartime ravages and the triumphs and failures of city planning (especially under the infamous Haussmann), one begins to sense that the extent to which the city has been built, embellished, demolished and rebuilt contributes to its vibrancy. Boxed inserts in each chapter that elaborate on locations and themes at first seem awkwardly placed, but their worth in tying together time and place quickly becomes clear: now-hidden rivers and city walls, a barely recognizable Roman amphitheater, the evolution of restaurants and numerous other sites and topics emerge. The poetry of place established in the early chapters is occasionally overwhelmed by the intensive detail of later time periods, but anyone who loves Paris will find connections and revelations here, a Paris of the mind that resonates through the centuries. B&w illus. (On sale Apr. 25) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The history of Paris from "earliest times" until tomorrow. Jones (History/Warwick Univ.; The Great Nation, 2003, etc.) opens with Julius Caesar and winds through antiquity toward the Middle Ages, giving us town-gown conflict in a Left Bank tavern at the opening of the 13th century to underscore the venerable roots of Parisian students' obstreperousness. Passing through the Reformation, which shook 16th-century Paris, the narrative finally arrives at more familiar history: divine-right monarchs, Enlightenment, Revolution. Familiar, yes, but Jones provides all sorts of interesting tidbits. Louis XV felt ill-at-ease in the great city; he believed Parisians called him Louis the Well-Hated. During the Enlightenment, Parisians spent about three million livres a year on coffee-even more than they spent on cheese. A sobering look at the 20th century leads to the city's present-day problems: industrial development, architectural conservation and the relationship between urban center and its suburbs, to name a few. But Paris, the author maintains, is unlikely to be defeated. Jones organizes his history chronologically, but gray-shaded "Feature Boxes" break the chronology to "operate like close-ups, fast-forward anticipations or rewind-retrospections." For example, the first restaurants appeared on the Parisian scene in the late-18th century. Since they continue to shape Parisian culture, the chapter on the 1780s includes a Feature Box summarizing the history of dining out from then until now. It's an understandable attempt to circumvent some of the problems with writing such sweeping history, but the boxes seem too gimmicky and are mostly a distraction rather than an embellishment. Meanwhile, theprose is altogether too self-consciously whimsical: apologizing for any of the book's flaws, Jones demurs that he hopes nonetheless it "will contain enough of interest to manage a Michelin Guide recommendation: vaut le detour." Finally, it seems odd that so long an overview has so little to say about Parisian women; at the very least, their key role in the French Revolution deserves mention. Imperfect but, still, entertaining and informative.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143036715
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/4/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 482,968
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 1.33 (d)

Meet the Author

Colin Jones is professor of history at the University of Warwick and the author of several works of history, including The Longman Companion to the French Revolution and The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : an impossible history of Paris?
1 Paris-Lutetia (from earliest times to c. 1000) 1
2 'Queen of cities' (c. 1000-c. 1300) 37
3 The city adrift (c. 1300-c. 1480) 72
4 Paris reborn, Paris reformed (c. 1480-1594) 111
5 Grand Siecle, great eclipse (1594-1715) 152
6 The kingless capital of enlightenment (1715-89) 199
7 Revolution and empire (1789-1815) 247
8 Between Napoleons (1815-51) 303
9 Haussmannism and the city of modernity (1851-89) 344
10 The anxious spectacle (1889-1918) 396
11 Faded dreams, lost illusions (1918-45) 443
12 The remaking of Paris (1945-c. 1995) 490
Conclusion : big projects in a bigger city (Paris in the twenty-first century) 534
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 30, 2009

    Comprehensive Story of a Great City

    In preparation for my third visit to Paris, I wanted to know more about the City and its place in history. This book weds the geography, politics, religion, and history of Paris so that now when I walk the boulevards or enjoy people watching at a sidewalk cafe I will be able to relate my location to place, time, and event.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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