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Paris: The Biography of a City Paperback – April 4, 2006

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0143036715 ISBN-10: 0143036718 Edition: Reprint

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

As comprehensive in detail and scope as a one-volume history of an ages-old city can comfortably be, but written with a decidedly scholarly tone, this "biography" will find its audience among history aficionados and ardent travelers unafraid to make a significant commitment to reading time and concentration. Logically, Jones relates the history of Paris in a chronological narrative. Augmenting his presentation are frequent "feature boxes," which are sidebars that tackle in more depth certain ancillary but definitely relevant topics, including Robert de Sorbon, founder of the great university; famous letter-writer Madame de Sevigne; and the neighborhood called the Marais. From the city known as Lutetia to the ancient Romans, to its status as a major urban center by the twelfth century, to its establishment as the permanent seat of the French monarchy, to its unseating when Louis XIV moved to Versailles, and then beyond, the story of Paris is made both graphic and distinctive. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036715
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By denverd0n on October 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a very good history of Paris. It is well-written and keeps you engaged throughout. It's not the sort of history that you have to force yourself to keep reading. If you have any interest at all in Paris you will enjoy reading this very much.

One of the techniques he uses, that I really enjoyed, is that he includes highlighted sections where he steps out of the strictly chronological description of what happened when and goes into a deeper description of a particular place, building, or incident. This breaks up the book just enough to keep it from getting tedious, and fills in details just when you want them.

The only complaint that I have is that he is very sketchy on details of what was going on in the rest of the world. Of course, this is a history of Paris, so how much time should he really spend on what was happening elsewhere? Still, it would have been useful to have a little more context; just enough to be better able to place the significant events in Paris with what was happening at the same time in the rest of the world.

Another comment (not a complaint, really), is that I found it absolutely necessary to have an overview map of Paris handy while I was reading. He seems to assume a fair degree of familiarity with the layout of the city. In particular, he frequently describes where something is only by mentioning which Arrondisment it's in, or what major cross streets are nearby. If you know Paris well enough to place things this way, more power to you. I don't, so I found myself frequently referring to a map.

But these are minor criticisms. Overall, this book is excellent and more than worth the cover price for anyone with any interest in Paris.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on October 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a workmanlike one-volume history of Paris, covering about one thousand years. I would especially recommend it for people deeply interested in urban architecture and city planning given that Professor Jones spends much effort detailing the changing nature and design of the streets and buildings of Paris. Most general readers will find this none too exciting. Those wanting to learn about a specific historical incident, for example the Commune of 1871, will likely read about it in this volume but should just buy one of the many good books that there are sure to be on that given incident. A nice aspect of the book are the many feature boxes that tell interesting tales related to the City of Light that would not fit into the author's general narrative. For the reader who wants a flavor of Paris without the sometimes numbing detail provided by this book, please consider Edmund White's The Flaneur and Alistair Horne's The Seven Ages of Paris.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By s on May 31, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is terribly organized. I'm not sure what happened in writing this book, but it seems clear that Professor Jones did not compile this in the chronological order that it is printed in.

My main complaint is that rather obscure concepts/people/events are repeatedly referred to, and then only later does Jones bother to define them. (I would almost prefer that he not define something at all, rather than offering a definition 100 pages after his first reference to it!) The fact that the book has an index only further infuriated me - clearly the author/publisher knew where all these terms were located throughout the book, yet did not bother to offer a definition in the appropriate/first reference to the concept.

Examples are numerous, but here are a few:
**robe nobility: referenced on pages 139, 152, 183. Defined? (pg. 183)
**sans culottes: first referenced on page 189, defined on page 231.
**Louis-Sebastien Mercier: referenced on pages 11, 138, 178, 189, 200, 204, 212, 213. When did Jones provide information (that he was a "journalist, dramatist and observer of Parisian mores") on just WHO Mercier is? Page 215.

Aside from that, there are some plain old errors. One such is in the text box on Saint Genevieve. Jones mentions that she negotiated with Frankish military chieftains in the 570s and 580s. She died in 512AD, so the negotiations seem improbable. (470s & 480s would be correct, but I should not have to figure that out.)

The redeeming quality of the book is that if DOES offer information on Paris if you are willing to sift through the above mentioned annoyances. And Paris is not such a bad subject.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lehigh History Student VINE VOICE on December 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
This books greatest strength and weakness is that it is one of the most thorough overviews on the city of Paris history that has been written yet. Unlike many it goes into wonderful detail on the early years of Paris and the build up on the Isle de cite. One of the other drawbacks is that the maps of Paris in the back are just okay but if you have a Paris travel book with good maps you will be better served for following the authors descriptions. The downside to the detail is that you can get bogged down very easily and lose the authors main point with all of the detail. The book tends to glaze over the post world war II era and I would have liked more explanation of the reconstruction efforts.
Overall it was an excellent summary of Parisian history and put Paris in the context of the entire country. There are many books like this that offer the biography of the city and I would put this one in the middle of those. It is hard to have a very strong opinion of this book since it was neither amazing nor terrible. For those looking to learn some more about the history of the city or those who want another perspective on French history it is probably worth a read but for the general consumer on European history it is probably worth a pass.
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