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Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City

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Overview

Stephane Kirkland gives an engrossing account of Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and one of the greatest transformations of a major city in modern history

Traditionally known as a dirty, congested, and dangerous city, 19th Century Paris, France was transformed in an extraordinary period from 1848 to 1870, when the government launched a huge campaign to build streets, squares, parks, churches, and public buildings. The Louvre Palace was expanded, Notre-Dame Cathedral was ...

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Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City

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Overview

Stephane Kirkland gives an engrossing account of Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and one of the greatest transformations of a major city in modern history

Traditionally known as a dirty, congested, and dangerous city, 19th Century Paris, France was transformed in an extraordinary period from 1848 to 1870, when the government launched a huge campaign to build streets, squares, parks, churches, and public buildings. The Louvre Palace was expanded, Notre-Dame Cathedral was restored and the French masterpiece of the Second Empire, the Opéra Garnier, was built. A very large part of what we see when we visit Paris today originates from this short span of twenty-two years.

The vision for the new Nineteenth Century Paris belonged to Napoleon III, who had led a long and difficult climb to absolute power. But his plans faltered until he brought in a civil servant, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, to take charge of the implementation. Heedless of controversy, at tremendous cost, Haussmann pressed ahead with the giant undertaking until, in 1870, his political enemies brought him down, just months before the collapse of the whole regime brought about the end of an era.

Paris Reborn is a must-read for anyone who ever wondered how Paris, the city universally admired as a standard of urban beauty, became what it is.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley
…[a] fine account of the reconstruction of Paris…[Kirkland] clearly knows Paris intimately, writes lucid and engaging prose, and is both spirited in his advocacy of Napoleon III and clear-eyed about how he was able to do what he did…it is an immense pleasure to accompany him as he leads us through the planning and building of the great boulevards, the construction of the Opera House and the reconstruction of the Louvre…
Publishers Weekly
The filthy, haphazardly arrayed Paris immortalized in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables gives way to the idealized tree-lined boulevards and planned building projects of the opulent Second French Empire, in urban architecture blogger Kirkland’s debut. Long before Robert Moses set about sculpting New York City, Baron Haussmann—with the blessings of Napoleon III (the Napoleon’s nephew)—transformed Paris from a medieval maze into a modern metropolis. While many of Haussmann’s changes—especially the long, straight, wide boulevards—have come to signify Paris in the popular mind, the metamorphosis was not without its attendant obstacles, including backroom deals, public outcry, and what many deemed prohibitively high costs. The greatest failures, however, were the new public housing developments—Napoleon III’s pet projects were ineffective, and builders rebelled against his vision. Their treatment is also the book’s greatest shortcoming: Kirkland glosses over root causes of lower class unrest and leaves unanswered questions regarding why the public housing didn’t satisfy its residents. Nevertheless, Kirkland is an able navigator of architectural history—vivid descriptions abound, and the evolution of the city’s infrastructure, public spaces, and other amenities is a testament to the oft overlooked reign of Napoleon III. Lovers of the City of Light and urban planners alike will find Kirkland’s survey illuminating. 8-page photo insert. Agent: William Clark, William Clark Associates. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“In the course of two decades in the mid-nineteenth century, Paris was transformed from a medieval town into a modern city. . . an astonishing makeover, which displaced three hunred and fifty thousand Parisians and razed most of the historic city. . . . Wide-ranging and readable history.” The New Yorker

“A fine account of the reconstruction of Paris. . . . Kirkland clearly knows Paris intimately, writes lucid and engaging prose, and is both spirited in his advocacy of Napoleon III and clear-eyed about how he was able to do what he did. . . . In the end Kirkland tells a cautionary tale. While it is an immense pleasure to accompany him as he leads us through the planning and building of the great boulevards, the construction of the Opera House and the reconstruction of the Louvre, it is also sobering to realize that in the process of gaining much, Paris lost much as well, in particular medieval neighborhoods that had profoundly influenced the city’s character.” —Washington Post

“Scrupulously researched . . . Fascinating and highly readable, Paris Reborn is strongly recommended for Francophiles, travelers, and students of urban history and planning.” Library Journal (starred review)

“Long before Robert Moses set about sculpting New York City, Baron Haussmann—with the blessings of Napoleon III (the Napoleon’s nephew)—transformed Paris from a medieval maze into a modern metropolis. . . . Kirkland is an able navigator of architectural history—vivid descriptions abound, and the evolution of the city’s infrastructure, public spaces, and other amenities is a testament to the oft overlooked reign of Napoleon III. Lovers of the City of Light and urban planners alike will find Kirkland’s survey illuminating.” Publishers Weekly

“Stephane Kirkland succeeds in linking strands of politics and finance, to those of history, art and beauty, with a skill that lends his book a most contemporary cutting edge.” —Alistair Horne, author of Seven Ages of Paris

“Destined to become a classic . . . Kirkland’s authoritative study sparkles with little-known gems . . . un-put-down-able.” —David Downie, author of Paris, Paris

“In this richly illustrated, broadly researched volume we follow, step by audacious step, as these two men raze neighborhoods, float bond measures, and, through daring, gamesmanship, even corruption, craft the modern City of Light.” —Penelope Rowlands, author of Paris Was Ours

Library Journal
Architect Kirkland's scrupulously researched account of the creation of modern Paris is unique in two respects. Kirkland focuses here on the vision of Napoleon III, who, in the author's opinion, deserves credit for imagining the grand design that his prefect of the Seine carried out. While not ignoring the regressive nature of the Second Empire, Kirkland presents Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte as an idealistic and visionary leader, a "new Augustus," committed to reshaping Paris for the new industrial age. This is his story as much as Hausmann's, though the prefect, per Kirkland, earned all the credit owing to his self-promotion. Kirkland's second unique approach presents the story from the viewpoint of an urban planner and public administrator, offering details not only of architectural projects, but of strategies to accomplish the grand design—financing, attention to real estate development, and newly emerging legal interpretations of eminent domain. He also discusses how these innovations affected city planning elsewhere, particularly in New York City. VERDICT Fascinating and highly readable, this is strongly recommended for Francophiles, travelers, and students of urban history and planning. Readers interested in this subject will also enjoy David P. Jordan's Transforming Paris: The Life and Labors of Baron Haussmann.—Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
Kirkus Reviews
A mildly revisionist history that gives principal credit for the modernization of Paris to the monarch rather than the prefect. Napoléon III was "the man who inspired and initiated [the] transformation of Paris," writes architect/historian Kirkland. By the time Georges-Eugène Haussmann became prefect of the Seine (responsible for the city's administration) in 1853, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte had already drafted his plans for transforming Paris from a medieval cluster of narrow, filthy streets into a modern metropolis with broad boulevards and proper sanitary facilities. He had also recently conducted a coup d'état that transformed him from president to emperor; his plans did not include democracy. Haussmann had similarly autocratic instincts. He juggled accounts, avoiding pesky financial oversight from elected officials, and demolished historic neighborhoods. Haussmann's highhanded ways led to his dismissal in 1870, but by then his main projects were completed: a municipal sewer system, major avenues such as the Rue de Rivoli, parks like the Bois de Boulogne and the great central market at Les Halles. The huge sums of money necessary for these grands travaux required new methods of financing, and new capitalists like the Pereire brothers were happy to oblige. The railroad developers' bank, Crédit Mobilier, funded most of the grands travaux, but its collapse in 1867 revealed the brazen corruption that was as much a part of the Second Empire as its ambitions. Kirkland evenhandedly assesses the projects' benefits and costs, concluding that most "could have been achieved in a more sensitive way, without such blind sacrifice of the city's historic character to the object of modernization." On the whole, however, he is admiring of the urban amenities built during this period, which still function to make Paris one of the world's most agreeable cities. Not as groundbreaking as the author imagines, but a solid retelling of an always-interesting tale of the first great urban-planning achievement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312626891
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 356,197
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

STEPHANE KIRKLAND holds advanced degrees in architecture and art history and has worked as an architect and as a consultant. He now shares his time between Brooklyn and Paris, writing about architecture, urban planning, and history.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2014

    Good guide for a walking tour..

    Having been to Paris I was aware that the city is largely that of the Second Empire ( 1852-1870) and the author gives a good account of Baron Haussman and Napoleon III's collaboration in the creation of the Paris we largely see today.
    I would be happy to go back using this book as a guide.
    Recommended but: as is too often the case today, various errors of facts and nomenclature are annoying. E.g. there was NO "Italian Republic" in the 1860's. Italy was a Kingdom intil 1946. Napoleon's title was NOT "emperor of France" but "Emperor of the French". Google anyone?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted August 21, 2014

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    Posted May 21, 2013

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