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How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City Hardcover – March 4, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Within a century after the medieval period, Paris had moved beyond the old model of a scattering of village dwellings behind fortified walls to become a well-planned urban space of public parks, boulevards, street grids, street lighting, public transportation, and modern bridges. As early as the 1600s, Henry IV and his successors Louis XIII and Louis XIV set in motion the design for a city that would incorporate the arts, entertainment, commerce, and government in the capital city, facilitating the whole life of Paris citizens. With public spaces that encouraged social interchange, with both the high-born and the low-born circulating together, picking up on gossip, new ideas, and fashion trends, Paris became one of Europe’s first great walking cities. French literary and cultural scholar DeJean details the planning behind the Pont Neuf, the Louvre, and other iconic sights as she offers a historical perspective on the forces that created Paris and led the way to a new conception of urban living. Maps and drawings add to the appeal of this engaging history of the growth of Paris into a modern city. --Vanessa Bush

Review

Illuminating . . . DeJean obviously knows and loves Paris, and she provides coherent history that effectively explains the evolution of a city built by a few prescient men. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

Witty and engaging . . . With panache and examples from primary sources, guidebooks, maps, and paintings, she illustrates how Paris changed people's conception of a city's potential. (Publishers Weekly (Top 10 Travel Books This Spring))

DeJean's depth and scope of research are impressive . . . Like its subject, DeJean's biography of Paris emanates charm and wit. What makes [her] analysis so intriguing is her capacity to weave strands of history together. With such rich context, How Paris Became Paris is more than a history: It's the best kind of travel guidebook. (BookPage)

Highly readable and well illustrated with color plates and numerous black-and-white images, this book is a joy for anyone who loves Paris. Because this work is aimed at a general audience, there are no footnotes, although quotations are identified and references given. A solid bibliography ends the work. (D. C. Baxter, Ohio University, CHOICE)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition ~1st Printing edition (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608195910
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608195916
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I freely admit I will read/watch just about anything that has Paris as its subject, or even uses that city as a background, but this book took me ages to finish. (A highly unusual situation for me it must be said!)

So constantly I got the feeling that I was just reading the same page over again.
The author knows her material, and presents it in quite a conversational tone but repeats and repeats similar anecdotes and facts until you get this odd feeling of déjà vu .

Yes Paris may have been innovative in so many ways but again and again we are told this and she lauds the praises of that particular city so constantly that even I became more than a little bored, ...and I hasten to add that Paris is my very favourite city in the world!

Each chapter is devoted to another area or field where Paris apparently "led the way" in becoming "modern".

Now there's next to nothing on the very extensive work carried out under the direction of Baron Haussmann at all, ...everything here takes place in the 16th/17th centuries and basically starts off with the removal of the surrounding defensive walls, the building of the Pont Neuf with footpaths, Place des Vosges, Place Vendome, and the development of the up until then barren Ile St. Louis.
She charts the rise of shops and also what we would call "developers" and "financiers", but I think they were probably more like astute speculators than anything else.

Oh, and she does harp on (and on!) about the streets being "lit", ...but as this was only by single candles, suspended one to a street so I don't think the "city of light" was all that bright for quite some time.
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By P.Garcia on May 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love Paris. Each summer for the last five years I've spent a couple of weeks going over each arrondissement and discovering something new each stay. From museums, public spaces, parks, monuments and bridges, the city is beyond compare. I was looking forward to this book and to be honest, I did enjoy certain aspects and information. I just felt the writing was a bit dry and many of the key points were repeated over and over to the point that I was anticipating the "rewind" before it appeared (examples of Paris being the center of "la mode" were just beaten to death). All in all the book could be so much more concise.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Sondra McClendon on March 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
For a paper that I am writing on urban history, I knew I would include Paris. I've only been there for three days, but it was just enough time to experiences it wonder, and now I know more reasons why! The significance of the Pont Neuf bridge revealed in this book opens the mind to how interwoven humans are with environment. She examines how the unique design of the bridge brought people together in new ways - from the fun of flirtation to unfortunate robberies.

I am most inspired by DeJean's thorough study of how the most modern city in the world had its foundation laid in the seventeenth century. Her writing style is appropriate for most readers, although it may be too casual at times for serious historians. Quite frankly, I find it a breath of fresh air. If there is anything out there on this time period that has similar academic caliber as Cities Perceived: Urban Society, I'd be interested to know, but this is good for me right now! It's a great read that will certainly enhance the way you see the world.
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40 of 51 people found the following review helpful By rtlaud on June 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
DeJean repeats her assertions over and over as if merely saying something makes it true. She seems to know a lot about Paris but is completely unaware of similar innovations in other European cities--especially London and Amsterdam. She refers over and over to the "modern city" but never offers a definition of what this mythical concept might be. Some of her material is plain wrong (for example: her treatment of an "innovative" and "new" plan to develop a silk industry at Henri IV's Place Royale neglects that Lyon was a major player in the European silk trade...) She goes on and on about cloak thieves (another "invention" of 17th-century France??) while neglecting that they're a commonplace in the literature of antiquity and the Middle Ages. EVERY phenomenon she discusses is new or "the first." Conclusion: seventeenth-century France invented EVERYTHING (fashion, "home," champagne, perfume, cafés...). See her other books. Attention Professor: nihil ex nihilo gignitur.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Judith K. Binney on August 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
So many useful facts about the Pont Neuf and other architectural gems and the ways they changed French style and behavior during the time of Louis IV. For some reason, I think the book's editor must have been asleep because there was so much repetition in Ms. De Jean's narrative and story. It seemed as if each chapter was meant to be a stand-alone piece, possibly for student lectures? Nonetheless, even though I lived in Paris for about 18 years I learned a lot in this book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey K. Walker on June 9, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Interesting collection of facts on 16th - 18h century Paris and how the fabric of the city came to be as we know it today, but fairly lightweight historical writing. Lot of needless repetition, showing a lack of a vigorous editor.
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