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Paris to the Past: Traveling through French History by Train Hardcover – June 27, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Later prt. edition (June 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393078949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393078947
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.7 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #776,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“It is hard to imagine a more enchanting or more brilliantly conceived book. With Ina Caro as your guide, you will fall in love with French history. Ancient castles and cathedrals come to life through her marvelous stories; biographical gems capture the lives of memorable kings and queens. But most of all, you will fall in love with Ina Caro herself—with her infectious love of history, food and architecture, her husband and life itself.” (Doris Kearns Goodwin)

“With charming humor and easy erudition, Ina Caro’s Paris to the Past is an exuberant journey from the City of Light to the outlying monuments of its storied, glorious, peculiar, and even culinary past. Ushered from Romanesque church to Gothic cathedral, from gilded bronze doors to walled cities, from Joan of Arc to Marie de Rohan to Rochefoucauld, we travel with our companionable, piquant narrator into the vagaries and unexpected corners of time and place. This is a gem of a book-- part history, part travelogue, part love affair—impossible to put down, until that is, we pack it for Paris.” (Brenda Wineapple, author of Genet: A Life of Janet Flanner)

“This book is animated by love on every page: love of French history, love of ancient pageantry, palaces, and cathedrals, and love of the historian husband who accompanies her on her wanderings. Paris to the Past is guaranteed to enrich the experience of both newcomers to France and veteran travelers alike.” (Ron Chernow, author of Washington: A Life)

About the Author

Ina Caro, author of the best-selling The Road from the Past, is an authority on medieval and modern French history. She lives in New York with her husband, the acclaimed biographer Robert A. Caro.

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Customer Reviews

This is the kind of book that you read and return to read again.
Phineas Phinque
This book is very poorly written,repetitive, boring, and incorrect in many details.
Janet Cohen
It is written in short chapters and provides good detail to get to these locations.
KW Traveler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By KW Traveler on July 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This concise review of French history through the architecture throughout France is a really interesting presentation of what could be very dry. The sights that we've seen and want to see come to life through this narrative. It is written in short chapters and provides good detail to get to these locations. Once there, the sites are much more interesting having read the book. If you're going to France and you like architecture, read this book before you go!
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Anne S. Headley on July 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love this book. I've been to France several times, and will continue to travel there as often as health and money permit. I don't know of another book that allows for the traveler who is committed to public transportation. Not all of us want to stress ourselves by renting a car - it is supposed to be a vacation, right? Like Caro, I'm enchanted by St. Denis, and marvel that it is usually ignored by travel guides. Maybe that's for the best, considering the crowds the author describes at Versailles. You can have hilarious adventures on trains and connecting buses or taxis. I look forward to following Caro's advice in an upcoming trip in discovering some new places.
My rating of four stars instead of five is due to the lack of pictures. And I'm wary of little sketchy maps such as she includes - they give no idea of distances.
This is not your basic guidebook. This is for you if you already own the basics (Rick Steves or the Lonely Planet) and want to do some unique exploring on your own. No tour guide necessary. Just get a train pass and a carnet of metro tickets and go. Or wait - keep the train pass days for the TGV trips and go with the day rates for nearer destinations - but you already knew that, right?
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By M. L. Asselin VINE VOICE on September 4, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The recipe Ina Caro followed in writing "Paris to the Past: Traveling through French History by Train," was simple, if somewhat arbitrary: write a gist of the history of Paris (and so of the kingdom and empire of France) based on extant landmarks. Or, conversely, write a kind of travel guide to historical Paris arranged chronologically. The landmarks, naturally, must be centered about Paris; the means of transportation to get there (or at least in the general vicinity), by train--to include regional rail and subway, the "Metropolitan." The landmarks, with few exceptions, couldn't be much more than an hour away from Paris. Focus on the history of the places you'll go--the idea being to see the development of France through the art and architecture of the places visited in historical progression--but throw into the mix your personal recollections about your actual travel experiences.

The arbitrary elements are clear--travel by train and restrict that travel to about an hour--and not unreasonable. As travel becomes faster and more convenient, one can imagine that one day all of France could be covered under such a recipe. But it works. The first stop, Saint-Denis, for instance, is a relatively short (20 min) Metro ride to a northern suburb; a later destination, Chartres, an easy one-hour shot from Paris. At first, I thought that the choice of locations seemed peculiarly non-Parisian: relatively few destinations covered in the book are in Paris proper. Quickly, though, I came to appreciate the thinking behind the choices. How often in touring a place do we group our visits by location and so get a smattering of different periods, and so varying ideas and styles, all in one confusing blur?
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34 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Kenyon on September 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I happened to see the author, Ina Caro, interviewed by Charlie Rose to promote her book. The only two words in French that she pronounced, "Fontainbleau" and "Carcassonne," she butchered with a heavy American accent. As another reviewer has written, Ms. Caro admits that she doesn't even speak French!

There are absurdities in this book: why break her rule about taking only day trips so that she could be back in Paris "in time for dinner" to include a trip to La Rochelle--approximately 250 miles from Paris? What's the point? I live in Paris and have been to La Rochelle numerous times and I can testify that there are plenty of places just as interesting to visit as La Rochelle that are not 250 miles from Paris!

Then there's the château of Vaux le Vicomte, which Ms. Caro implies is accessible by train. Wrong. The only way to get there, besides driving, is to take the train to Melun and then pay for a taxi to Vaux le Vicomte and back or board the "Chateaubus" shuttle on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from April through November.

Now if you want a useful and practical guide to discovering "the real France" from Paris, I enthusiastically recommend "An Hour from Paris," by the Paris-basesd English writer Annabel Simms. Her book will not suggest taking the TGV to La Rochelle or going to the chateaux of the Loire for the day, but boarding a train that will take you to such fascinating places as the historic town of Provins [once the third-largest city in France], famous for its roses and its medieval fortifications; or to picturesque Moret-sur-Loing, where the painter Alfred Sisley spent most of his life--all within just one hour from leaving the station. Then you discover these places on foot.
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