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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinarily deep and readable history
Kirkland has written a book that shines on a number of levels. If you are a lover of Paris and wish to know the story of how it came to resemble the city of our collective dreams, the author has written the definitive work on the subject. If you love history for its own sake, Kirkland dives deep into 19th century politics and comes out with one of the most insightful...
Published 19 months ago by Eric Garland

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book about streets, but, oddly, without maps.
Kirkland's Paris Reborn is a fascinating look at the Second Empire, with revealing portraits of the major players, politics, and policy. However, be warned, this book, ostensibly about the rebuilding of Paris 1850-1870, contains not one single map, illustrating before or after various major transformations. Lots of street names, but nary a single diagram. The book is...
Published 15 months ago by John F. Bundy


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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinarily deep and readable history, April 18, 2013
This review is from: Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City (Hardcover)
Kirkland has written a book that shines on a number of levels. If you are a lover of Paris and wish to know the story of how it came to resemble the city of our collective dreams, the author has written the definitive work on the subject. If you love history for its own sake, Kirkland dives deep into 19th century politics and comes out with one of the most insightful studies in the English language of any foreign political system. Moreover, if you are looking at the modern predicament of sprawl and peak oil, this book could not be better timed in its detail of how real structural change happens.

The language is crisp and exciting, always giving the color of the times along with the technical details of governance and city planning.

This book is a tour de force. Bravo to Stephane Kirkland.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book about streets, but, oddly, without maps., August 26, 2013
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This review is from: Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City (Hardcover)
Kirkland's Paris Reborn is a fascinating look at the Second Empire, with revealing portraits of the major players, politics, and policy. However, be warned, this book, ostensibly about the rebuilding of Paris 1850-1870, contains not one single map, illustrating before or after various major transformations. Lots of street names, but nary a single diagram. The book is decorated with endpapers of a Paris map, 1871, but the scale is too small to be of any use in understanding what Haussmann wrought. Hence, if you are not familiar with every street in Paris, old and new, you are lost. I had hoped to find maps, engineering details, and other "impersonal" information, but was disappointed. As a history of movers and shakers, it's fine, but don't expect to learn much about the physical transformation of the city.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Info About Paris, May 20, 2013
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This review is from: Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City (Hardcover)
I am approximately half way through this book. It is very interesting, and I am confident that it will enrich my next visit to Paris. Napolean III and Hausmann were visionaries who transformed Paris into the city that the world has come to love. It is a fascinating story of urban planning and architectural design. On the negative side of the ledger, the writing lacks the verve that David McCollough or Steven Ambrose would have brought to the subject. There is an eight-page section with photos, mostly portraits of individuals who played a key role in the redevelopment of Paris. I found myself frequently referring to Google Maps and Google images to see where the new boulevards were placed and to see pictures of monumental buildings and public spaces. It would have been nice to have more graphic content since the subject is so visual in nature. Bottom line: Good but not great.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No Map!!!, June 20, 2013
I agree with other reviewers--it's a well written social history, and the portraits of Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann and others are fine. But, and this is a huge but, IT HAS NO MAP! I could hardly believe it...I bought the Kindle version, and I was prepared to go back and forth to the map as I read, but there's no map! Who would have imagined that anyone would write a book about the history of the streets of a city without a map? The author tells us about the Rue de Rivoli that went here and there, and the various boulevards, and so on, but without a map, how is the reader supposed to make sense of it? I read the other reviews, but I don't want to be forced to go to Wikipedia, nor do I want to go to the author's "interactive web site," which in any case I found out about in these comments only after finishing the book. I want a map in the damn book. Unbelievable. Am I the only who finds this unacceptable?

And here's a clunker. The author refers to Offenbach's opera La Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein and translates the title as "The Great Duchess..." I guess he and his editor have never heard of a "Grand Duchess..."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Enthralling Story of Paris and the Modern Age, July 12, 2013
This review is from: Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City (Hardcover)
"Paris Reborn" by Stephane Kirkland is a solid addition to the literature on the monumental rebuilding of Paris in the nineteenth century. The standard English language book on this subject is David Pinkney's "Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris" (1958). Long out of print, a used copy of Pinkney's study is nearly impossible to locate at an affordable price. Mr. Kirkland's new book covers the same ground as Pinkney; both works are concise and full of detailed information, addressing the main issues of what is possibly the greatest urban renewal project of the modern age. At his personal website, Mr. Kirkland offers an instructive interactive map of the sites described in his book.

In this fast-paced and extremely well-written overview, Mr. Kirkland shapes the narrative around two remarkable figures, Louis-Napoléon and George-Eugène Haussmann. The nephew of the more famous Napoléon Bonaparte, Louis-Napoléon brilliantly exploited the chaos of the 1848 people's revolution of Paris to become President of the Republic and, later, in a coup d'état, to proclaim himself Emperor of France. As Napoléon III, he had the good judgment to appoint the ambitious and skillful administrator, George-Eugène Haussmann, as prefect of the Seine to oversee the rebuilding project of Paris. As the work progressed, Haussmann was ennobled with the title of Baron. He was relentless in pursuing projects that would have both practical and aesthetic appeal, such as the new Opera designed by the charismatic Charles Garnier. The grand vision of a new, egalitarian landscape of Paris, including wide boulevards, parks, plumbing, and efficiently designed railroad lines, was, in effect, that of an emperor and a baron at a time when France was still struggling with democracy a half century after the French Revolution. This is one of the many paradoxes examined in "Paris Reborn."

During the long construction period, the city of Paris had remained in a state of utter confusion with the tearing down of buildings, the carving of new thoroughfares, and excavations needed for a sewer system in a city desperate for better hygiene. But Mr. Kirkland does not fully convey the inconvenience and dislocation of people's lives during the massive construction phase. For anyone who has lived through a neighbor rebuilding or remodeling a home, one can appreciate what Parisians endured for decades in the late nineteenth century.

A weakness of the book is the surface-level coverage of so many topics--biography, urban planning, bureaucracy, fraud, politics, architecture, and art. There were only four paragraphs devoted to the Impressionist painters, who were inspired by the "new" city of Napoléon III to paint outdoors and memorialize the building projects. An indepth discussion of the paintings of Camille Pisarro would have provided essential visual reference points for Haussmann's achievements, as described in the book. Another issue that was not fully developed was the influence of the dazzling city of London that sparked Louis-Napoléon's interest in rebuilding Paris at a time when he was living in exile in England. The enormous foreign policy blunders of Napoléon III could have also been covered in greater detail, including military adventurism in the Crimean War, intervention in Italy, and the disastrous Franco-Prussian War that eventually sent Napoléon III back into exile in England. How could this leader have been such a visionary in urban planning, yet hopelessly inept in failing to recognize the emerging nationalism in Europe?

One of the salient points of the book comes from the staunch defense of the plan for the city when Napoléon III was confronted by his opponents, who believed that Haussmann was overreaching in the vast funding (nearly $1 trillion in modern currency) for rebuilding Paris. Napoléon III replied succinctly that "the role of the administration is to manage the interests, without deviating from the way forward" (p. 200). By "the way forward," he was referring specifically to progress and modernity. From a grimy medieval city, Napoléon III brought Paris into the modern age. The city that we know as Paris today is not that of the historic ages of the medieval, Renaissance, or Baroque France. Rather, it is the nineteenth-century creation of Napoléon III and Baron Haussmann. This book serves as a lively introduction and an excellent starting point for understanding this unforgettable story.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history, well written, May 11, 2013
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B. Reed (Colorado, USA) - See all my reviews
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I loved this book! It explains the transformation of Paris from a teeming city with many small neighborhoods into a city with wide boulevards and beautiful architecture. It was best when read with a map nearby, since I don't know Paris all that well.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you want to make an omelet ..., June 1, 2013
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This review is from: Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City (Hardcover)
If you want to make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.

This book tells the fascinating story of how Napoleon III had an imperial vision for Paris and picked the ultimate egg breaker, Georges-Eugene Haussmann to implement this vision. The vision brought large scale demolition of existing structures, dislocation of citizens by the thousands, insider real estate deals, and financial deceit on a breath taking scale. The core of Paris as we know it originated with this modernization, which cleared traffic snarls, provided water and sewer service, and gave Paris its unique appeal for the generations that followed. Kirkland chronicles the massive urban changes, explaining how the streets and squares of the city were remade. He also goes into some intriguing detail on the politics and financing of the undertaking, and follows Haussmann's rise from provincial bureaucrat to the emperor's right hand man.

The writing style is clear and accessible, but sometimes lacks the telling detail that makes history come alive. When the author says that the massive building boom stimulated French industry, I wished for more explanation and a few statistics. Thousands of apartments were built, but there are only a couple pages on these, mostly about their facades. How did life change for the Parisians moved into them?

Books about design and technology often don't have enough illustrations to completely explain their ideas. Another reviewer provided information on Kirkland's website, which provides a wealth of detailed maps and street images. Going directly to Google maps and getting typical street views is also helpful. This shows the scale and details of the urban fabric that makes Paris such a wonderful city for pedestrians.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful account of the Parisian evolution, May 14, 2013
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Stephane Kirkland's well researched account of the players and context of the 2nd Empires majestic,if not fiscally prudent, rebuilding of Paris is a true gem. Money and politics clean and dirty abound here. A great read, tightly written. Not to be missed by those who marvel at the confusion of 19th century France.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Grands Travaux, October 26, 2013
This review is from: Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City (Hardcover)
In the US we tend to think that urban planning began with Daniel Burnham and the Plan of Chicago at the dawn of the twentieth century. Napoleon III credited Augustus Caesar as first with a plan for Rome. It seems there has been a long gap between Rome and the mid-nineteenth century plan for Paris for which Napoleon III was the prime mover.

Earlier this year I read Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire which had very little about this topic and I wondered how the Paris plan fit in with this administration that was portrayed with great humor. The only carnivale-style vignette in "Paris Reborn" is the brief description of the dueling wardrobes of the Empress Eugenie and her rival Countess Virginia Oldoini.

The book recounts some interesting aspects of the project: how plans were and were not made, financing (the Pereire brothers, Credit Mobilier, vouchers for future payment that circulated as money, etc.) the technology of the time (mcadam, sidewalks of asphalt, railroads, running water, a hospital to accommodate the new discovery of germs); the renovation of Notre Dame; the various architects; and the structure of the autocracy that gave the Prefect of Paris, Baron Haussmann power he would never have had if accountable to Parisians. Author Stephane Kirkland does not tell the fate of the 20 percent of the population of Paris (117,553 people, p. 135) who were displaced by the "grands travaux".

Is it the author's fault that there are no maps? Who selected the photos and decided that there would be so few of them? Even if expense was the issue, why not have some b&w line drawings? A book like this needs some before and after renderings. Maps showing the location of the major projects (simple line drawing renderings would not be expensive) are a serious omission.

I'd like to give this 3 stars and probably should because I stayed with it (I usually don't finish or review books I'd rate with 2 stars) but the omissions can't be overlooked.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you are an autocrat you can really remodel a city, May 19, 2013
Although Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann gets most of the press regarding the mid-nineteenth century remodeling of Paris, he was basically implementing the wishes of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, also known as Emperor Napoleon III. A number of problems with the city of Paris had been apparent for several decades. Streets running continuously through the central city to its outskirts, on either a north-south or east-west axis were conspicuous by their absence, additional supplies of drinkable water were needed, sewers to remove waste were required, and the central marketplace, Las Halles, needed to be rebuilt. These problems had been apparent since at least Napoleon I, and indeed Napoleon I and the King Louis-Philippe, the monarch prior to revolution of 1848 that allowed Napoleon III to take power, had carried out partial efforts to fix these problems. The efforts of Louis-Philippe's prefect of the Seine, Count Claude-Philibert Barthelot de Rambuteau, were especially notable and early in his rule Napoleon III simply continued these projects initiated by Rambuteau. What Napoleon III added was the determination and funding to push through a major overhaul, despite the resistance of the city council and the unhappiness of owners whose properties were condemned and the displacement of many working-class Parisians from the central city.

Nor was Haussmann the first prefect of the Seine under Napoleon's rule (the city did not get an elected mayor until the 1970s.) Jean-Jacques Berger was Louis-Napoleon's first prefect of the Seine, but he lacked the ruthlessness to push things through as fast as Louis-Napoleon wished. A lack of ruthlessness was not a condition Baron Haussmann suffered from. Haussmann's principal problem was in raising the money, as the city council didn't want to take on much debt or raise taxes very much. But with some give from the city government, a subsidy from the central government, and some dodgy ways of raising off-balance-sheet debt, Haussmann managed to finance the rebuilding. It cost much more than he advertised, though eventually he was forced to admit something resembling the true costs in the late 1860s. A good deal of insider trading of real estate, based on knowledge of where new roads were going in, took place. After the fall of Napoleon III as a result of losing the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, subsequent governments of the Third Republic basically continued Haussmann's program, even if a number of the politicians associated with the Republic had complained about Haussmann when he was in charge.

I think the people who suffered most from the rebuilding of the city were those working-class renters who were displaced to the suburbs of Paris, probably with an increase in rent. Owners of condemned real estate were compensated to varying degrees of lavishness. The rebuilding did result in such notable improvements as more drinkable water, roads connecting the various railroad stations (each station gave access to different parts of France and Europe,) an accessible central city, a new marketplace that served the city until the 1960s, and sewers. Public health improved. It is perfectly true that one reason for the wide roads into the central city was to make it easier for the army to crush urban rebellions; France may not have been a socially unstable country, but its capital certainly was a focal point of political unrest. However, the rebuilding of Paris had many other objectives, mostly more laudable, than simply keeping the proletarians from getting uppity.

As an autocratic government, the Second Empire was able to require a consistency of construction that resulted in a pleasing over-all urban landscape, rather than having buildings of widely varying styles jumbled on top of each other. Building was permitted to heights, about six stories, that is the maximum practical height when people are going to have to use stairs on a regular basis to get to the upper floors. I suspect that such uniformity would be impossible to require in the modern American context. The general political context of the rebuilding is so different from that of the contemporary United States that I doubt anything similar could be attempted in a modern American city; too many people have rights here. Thus the lessons we could learn from the rebuilding are limited.

The book is most engagingly written, and I greatly enjoyed it.
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Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City
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