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Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans Paperback – September 15, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0226138428 ISBN-10: 0226138429
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Editorial Reviews


“A brilliant and spirited reinterpretation of the emergence of French New Orleans. Dawdy leads us deep into the daily life of the city, and along the many paths that connected it to France, the North American interior, and the Greater Caribbean. A major contribution to our understanding of the history of the Americas and of the French Atlantic, the work is also a model of interdisciplinary research and analysis, skillfully bringing together archival research, archaeology, and literary analysis.”

(Laurent Dubois, Duke University)

“Nowadays it is rare to come across an academic monograph that combines literary verve and analytical virtuosity, and rarer still to find it in a book that straddles history and archeology. Shannon Lee Dawdy’s immensely sophisticated study of French Louisiana—the first full-length treatment since World War One—defies easy categorization. Hers is more than a rollicking tale of how rogues, creoles, and utopian planners from three continents conjured from the mud one of the Atlantic World’s quirkiest communities. Building the Devil’s Empire is also a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of colonialism, revolution, and liberal capitalism near the dawn of the modern age. The book is a tour de force.”

(Lawrence N. Powell, Tulane University)

“Dawdy’s research is thorough and imaginative, and her argument persuasive and important. As the literature on colonial Louisiana grows and improves, Dawdy’s work raises the historical study of New Orleans to an even higher standard and promises to influence future lines of inquiry. In this ambitious and appealing book, she cleverly turns what has made New Orleans marginal to the writing of colonial history—its reputation for disorder and failure—into the essential challenge for understanding the city’s significance.”

(Daniel H. Usner Jr., Vanderbilt University)

"By untangling myths, Dawdy has left us all with a richer inheritance. . . . Good history contains surprises, of which there are an abundance in this eye-popping yet scholarly book. And it has some cool color illustrations, too."
(Andrew Burstein Advocate)

"[A] penetrating study of the colony's founding."

“This book is highly useful for developing an understanding not only of New Orleans, but also of the history of the Caribbean world during the colonial period.”

"The author, trained in historical archaeology and anthropology, provides often-remarkable insights into the ethos and daily lives of the people of New Orleans, while putting this unique society into a larger context of colonial dynamics and structure. . . .  Historians have paid surprisingly little attention to this fascinating period, and this book is most welcome."
(John T. McGrath Journal of American History)

"In delightfully diverse ways, [the author] explores the themes of imperial design, creole improvisation, and rogue colonialism. . . . Dawdy's book furnishes a model of interdisciplinary research, bringing to the task the tools of archaeology, ethnography, literary analysis, and archival research, all the while vigorously engaging with the secondary and the theoretical literature. . . .Engagingly written, beautifully illustrated, flawlessly edited, and reasonably priced."
(Richmond F. Brown American Historical Review)

"Employing a vibrant style, Dawdy animates a painstakingly woven social, cultural, and economic tapestry of the history of French Louisiana, one that deserves to hang in a place of honor in the years to come."
(John Lowe French Studies)

About the Author

Shannon Lee Dawdy is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago and coeditor of Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226138429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226138428
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #732,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mary Beaudry on September 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In this splendid and groundbreaking history of colonial New Orleans, Shannon Dawdy demonstrates her powers as research and raconteur and captivates the reader with her talent for spinning out the human stories that made New Orleans in its infancy the place of infamy, chicanery, and romance that has so firmly lodged it in the minds of Americans and others. It is a wonderful read and one that makes me, a historical archaeologist like Dawdy though not, I fear, one of her caliber, stew in impatient anticipation of her forthcoming works on the archaeology of our beloved Crescent City.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Retro on December 25, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
New Orleans is my favorite subject right now and this book is a fantastic look at its delicious history. Can't put it down.
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5 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Richard I. Kress on February 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
For those that have read several previous books on 18th century New Orleans this
provides a little more information but not much more. What is especially disappointing, given the title, is that there is little data presented regarding the sexual lives of city residents in the French period. Given New Orleans's reputation as having always been free-spirited in this regard this is a major gap. Totally missing is any data on the extent to which same gender relationships were tolerated despite French sodomy laws prior to the Revolution of 1789. Also the details on the streets, the houses, vegetation of the city is limited.
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