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"This classic work . . . is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the civil war that still stirs the soul of France."
-Evening Standard, London
In 1870, Paris was the center of Europe, the font of culture, fashion, and invention. Ten months later Paris had been broken by a long Prussian siege, its starving citizens reduced to eating dogs, cats, and rats, and France had been forced to accept the humiliating surrender terms dictated by the Iron Chancellor Bismarck. To many, the fall of Paris seemed to be the fall of civilization...
In 1870, Paris was the center of Europe, the font of culture, fashion, and invention. Ten months later Paris had been broken by a long Prussian siege, its starving citizens reduced to eating dogs, cats, and rats, and France had been forced to accept the humiliating surrender terms dictated by the Iron Chancellor Bismarck. To many, the fall of Paris seemed to be the fall of civilization itself. Alistair Horne's history of the Siege and its aftermath is a tour de force of military and social history, rendered with the sweep and color of a great novel.
Posted May 14, 2006
Eating rats, cats, dogs, horses, and other domestic animals was just one unusual aspect of this most bizarre episode in French history. In the less than six months' time it took Bismarck's German armies to defeat Louis Napoleon's vaunted French army, the citizens of Paris went from living in the world's most glamorous, cosmopolitan, luxurious city to being reduced to eating their pets just to stay alive. The change was as startling as it was complete. But beyond starvation and poverty, Paris was also wracked by bitter class divisions and hopelessly incompetent leadership. 'All that glitters is not gold,' as they say. Paris would not be held under one but two sieges, one by the Prussians and one by France itself. These sieges would long be remembered for both ingenuity and intrigue. While the swift, bloody recapture of Paris from the Commune forces would serve as an object lesson for both proletariat and elite alike. Prominent later Communists like Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky heeded the lesson that for Communists to succeed they would have to ruthlessly crush any and all opposition. Now in 2006, the French gov't takes the threat of Parisian insurrection in the form of student protests as a very real and extremely dangerous development. Horne does an excellent job of bringing all the diverse and intriguing characters to life, from the ailing washed-up Louis Napoleon, to the confident successful Bismarck, to all the colorful rascals leading the Paris Commune. He retells of the hot-air balloon flights from Paris to beyond the Prussian lines of circumvallation, in one case all the way to Norway. Horne also relates the astoundingly poor fighting capacity of the Parisian National Guard units against the Germans, although they did fight better later against their own French bourgeois enemies. This is a very good book, thoroughly researched and wonderfully written. The siege of Paris and the Paris Commune are fascinating, but little known chapters, in French history for non-Frenchmen. I warmly recommend this book.
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