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Showing 1-10 of 110 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 128 reviews
on August 14, 2017
We would rate this book 3.5 instead of 3, but the Amazon review process only allows for assigning whole stars. The story of How Paris Became Paris offers some fine observations, agreed, but I have several problems with it: (i) the small print and pale ink are difficult to read; (ii) there is far too much repetition in the text (I read this book aloud to my husband and grew so weary of all the padding that I simply summarized for him when it got to be too much); (iii) there was also too much repetition in the illustrations (many are details of pictures reproduced in varying degrees of fullness all over the book - for instance, three pictures on p 28, 36 and 192 are of the same original but appear with different captions, while on p 193 we see the same picture shown on p 149, only in a different size and with different captions); (iv) when the author refers to an illustration, she simply writes "this illustration," implying that the reader must search about for the one she means.To avoid this awkwardness, illustrations should have been numbered for ease of reference the way they are in art history books, with a separate numbering or lettering system for the color plates; (v) very disappointed that the author only fleetingly notes the changes made in Paris in the 19th c at the hands of Napoleon III and Baron Georges E. Haussmann; (vi) some Then & Now comparisons would have done wonders to liven the text, as many of the early constructs are still visible today, in good working order (as the Pont Neuf with its fine equestrian statue of Henri IV and the Place Royale, which is now called the Place des Vosges); (vii) the "urb" wasn't something entirely new that was invented by the French - the first world class city was ancient Rome - it is estimated that the population of Rome 2,000 years ago was roughly 1 million..

I would suggest this book to others, but also urge them to look at (a) the small full color Skira art book from 1957 entitled "Paris in the Past" (b) see "Paris Then and Now" by Peter and Oriel Caine (Thunder Bay Press, 2003) and, (c) when in Paris, definitely visit the Musee Carnavalet which is, first of all, two splendid historic buildings now joined into one, with breathtaking paintings of Paris in former centuries - a museum not to be missed by the serious admirer of Paris.
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on September 26, 2014
I enjoy tales of fabulous characters, whether historical or imaginary, that follow them from their first appearance to their moment of highest triumph (or despair). What brought them about, what made them 'them', the turns and twists of fortune? In the book I speak of this month, one of my favorite characters is studied, her history recounted, illustrations of her growth in grace and charm, some account of the influences that made her what she is...

This character was formed by a powerful man who, seeing her, visualized her as greater than she was at that moment. He had the power to direct actions, mold events, and it was through his love affair with this character that events that led her ultimate form were set in motion. His son and grandson crossed this character's path, as well, each bringing changes and molding her with their actions and personality

I met this character in person, myself, in May of 1990, during a time of upheaval in my life. I was writing a story that features her. I have to say that I was charmed by her, fascinated, even enchanted. She remained a very important character of my WIP (Volume 1 is now published). I love to read about her, to see how others perceive her. I am not reviewing a book about a queen, a courtesan, a goddess or a great heroine, but a book about a city: Paris.

Paris is the first of the great 'modern' cities. Others have copied Paris. My home city, Philadelphia, has The Ben Franklin Parkway, which is a copy of the Champs-Elysees. The City Hall there is a copy of the Hotel de Ville. I am working on a project involving Paris as a sort of setting. I needed to understand the history and the development of that city. I found the book, bought it and read it. I thought it would be informative. I did not expect it to be entertaining.

DeJean starts with the sentence what makes a city great? The book goes on from there.

Prior to the 17th century, Rome was the most celebrated European city, famous for its past. People made pilgrimages to Rome to visit its ancient monuments and historic churches, to seek inspiration. Novelty and excitement were not on the agenda. And then, in the 17th century, a city was invented (or, I think, reinvented) to hold a visitor's attention and, itself, to provide enjoyment. This was Paris, the city as it is now, planned to be changed and enlarged, to grow into what it is now.

The history is fascinatingly told. For anyone who has studied European history, the names are familiar. One king had the idea, his son and grandsons followed. Essentially, Henri IV invented city planning. The book follows the changes (wars, invasions, revolutions) and the challenges (a river runs through it). It was perhaps the most useful thing I read for research, and not nearly as gory as some, history being what it is.

The construction of the book works. It is, after all, a history, so flows linearly. History involves people, and DeJean introduces the statesmen, rulers, ministers and citizens. The dreamers, the liars, the schemers... She ties the changes in culture in with the changes in the cityscape. The wide avenues that Paris is now famous for were novelties that encouraged leisurely strolling. Not going from one place to another, but strolling to see and be seen. Flirtation as a pastime, conveyances (fiacres, the original taxi cabs), modes of address... Architecture, too: the first balconies appeared in Paris, allowing residents to enjoy people-watching. And if people are strolling past your house, perhaps spiffing it up, or rebuilding it in a more magnificent form was desirable. And that fabulous piece of furniture, the boon for nappers and waiters-for-friends, made its first appearance in 1678. The park bench.

The book contains lots of illustrations including maps, engravings of citizens and celebrities. DeJean comments on them and ties them in to her narrative.

I bought this as a sourcebook. Rather like The Civil War Day By Day: An Almanac, 1861-1865 (Da Capo Paperback), or a topographical map of Georgia. Sourcebooks are useful, informative, generally interesting but not re-reads. Enjoyable ones are unusual. Joan DeJean writes in a flowing, chatty fashion. The linear structure of the book makes it into a history rather than an encyclopedia. For a sourcebook, I give it five stars.

...And, thanks to this book. I now have the perfect comeback line for someone who says, "Well, Paris was just a jumble of twisty, dark, dirty streets until Napoleon III and his minister, Baron Haussman, tore it all apart and rebuilt the city around 1850." "No, you're wrong. Paris as it is now was planned four hundred years ago. Go forth and read."

Unfortunately, such people are rare.
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I did not know quite what to expect when I ordered this book. But the blurbs made this volume sound intriguing.

Before the late 1500s, Paris was, as the author notes (page 4), "that urban disaster." From 1597 to 1700, though, the city was transformed. The country's leaders called upon architects and other specialists to apply contemporary technology and knowledge to create a better city. This book focuses on some key changes over time--physical, economic, and cultural--to explain "How Paris Became Paris," a modern city.

Henri IV presided over the completion of Pont Neuf (the work began under an earlier King), a radical approach to making a bridge into a public place. It rapidly became a centerpiece for citizens of the city. Henri IV became committed to making Paris a better place, a more exciting and dynamic venue. Through Louis XIV, and even beyond, French kings expended labor and funding; even wealthy financiers became major actors in supporting construction.

Each chapter in this book explores a distinct element in the process of making Paris Paris. The first chapter considers the impact of the Pont Neuf. Chapter two examines the construction of Place Royale now, Place des Vosges). Chapter 3? Ile Saint-Louis. Chapter five summarizes major public works--boulevards, streets, and parks (Chapter four describes political turmoil--relevant as it slowed progress in the city's transformation). Chapter six speaks of the introduction of lighting and better transportation and the impact of these. The remaining chapters move away from infrastructure and the physical changes to more cultural aspects: culture and fashion and shopping consume chapter seven; chapter 8 delves in to the financial world; chapter nine is entitled "City of Romance." The final chapter steps back, noting the new physical developments in Paris with Baron Haussmann in the mid-1850s. Then, the author goes back to summarize and contextualize the impressive development from the late 1500s to 1700, using objets d'art.

What is fascinating about this book is how a detailed case study of the various topics examined creates such a dynamic story of how Paris evolved over time. I have been to Ile Saint-Louis and had no concept that this was, in essence, a planned community, designed to develop an undeveloped area in Paris. Thus, the story in this book enriches an understanding of Paris.

All in all, an excellent work.
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on October 9, 2016
This is a well researched and revealing book about the invention of the modern city. Interestingly, almost every impression that i had of Paris - a hub of fashion and culture, a vibrant walkable city, a place to be seen, a city of romance - all began in the 17th century. The vision of Henry V and Louis XIV was remarkably influential on moving the architecture of Paris out of the middle ages - and subsequently influenced the expansion of many more great cities. There are many "firsts" in Paris. If you want the Cliff Notes version, reading the first and last chapters will give you an overview of the book - but don't miss the detail on the Pont Neuf which was the true genesis of Paris as a travel destination outside of places with great antiquities such as Rome; the creation of what was intended to be the first truly social space, The Place Royal and Henry V's it's other intended purpose to rival Italy as the textile capital of Europe; the revolutionary tearing down of the medieval walls around the city to announce Paris' openness to the world; the development of the first public street light and public transport system; the creation of more retail spaces and Paris' birth as the fashion capital of the world; the birth of self-made men; and how 17th century finance worked. There is interesting etymology throughout and lots of interesting stories and illustrations from the period. This book's premise would make an interesting television series.
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on July 2, 2014
Joan DeJean has done it again. This masterful and superbly researched study of how Paris became Paris is truly illuminating. Tracing how the idea of urban renewal arose during the Renaissance, De Jean shows how this was carried through after Henri IV had managed to complete the totally new Pont Neuf (on the drawing board since his predecessor, Henri III's reigh), the first modern bridge in the sense that it had no buildings or shops on it (cf the Ponte Vecchio in Florence). It became instead, thanks to its large dimensions, a place where various classes could mingle and admire the river and the buildings that bordered its banks. De Jean also recounts how Henri IV was instrumental in creating the Place Royale, now the Place des Vosges, a totally new conception of urban design, admired throughout Europe. These two iconic masterpieces from the Renaissance paved the way for the other innovations, including the creation of the Ile Saint-Louis, and the emphasis on luxury goods, on shopping (yes shopping!), street lighting and public transportation among others made Paris the cultural and commercial capital of Europe under Louis XIII and particularly Louis XIV. Any lover of Paris (and there are still many, even if the Parisian spirit of innovation is not what it once was) will find this book fascinating and marvel at the amount of research and basic flair it required. Yet in spite of (or perhaps because of) its deep erudition, this book is a delight to read and should be on the bookshelf of any past or future visitor of the City of Light.
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on June 9, 2014
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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on August 5, 2014
I wish I had more stars so I could give this book the rating it deserves. If all history books were written like this, we would all be history buffs and the fiction market would sag.
I can’t remember when I have learned so much from one single book, and had such an enjoyable time in the process. I was slowed in my progress through the book by the irresistible urge to look up many peripheral subjects on the web as I went along (ask me about the Thirty Years War!), and to search for more old Paris maps, and more images of the kings and other major players.
One of the most intriguing discoveries within these pages is the evolution of the interaction between the citizens and their city – a form on interaction we take for granted today, but which, the author makes clear, was novel in Europe at that time – and how changes to the city brought about that evolution.
Buy the paper version of this book in order to get a good view of the many maps and other illustrations.
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on November 23, 2014
This book was interesting-- packed with details, quick to read and burgeoning with great color plates and other illustrations from the 1600s that I kept going back to because I had, most likely, missed a detail that De Jean was pointing out again but in a new context. If this is history, lead me to it!

Essentially, the author states that ( mostly ) Louis XIV reinvented Paris and turned it from a wooden village into- almost- the city it is today. Walls came down, boulevards and walkways were created, wide bridges became places to see and to be seen strolling on, men and women mingled more than they had before. Aristocrats became models to emulate, no longer so far above the masses. Fashion became omnipresent, shopping as we know it, also. Words such as nouveau riche, parvenu, millionaire , financier and more date from the late 1600s in Paris. The city became lit with thousands of torches. Truly the city of light even then.

De Jean writes in an easy way so as to capture the reader. I put her other books on my to read list.
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on October 20, 2014
Every time I go to Paris, I see something new, and I really love the city. Being one of the oldest and largest major cities in Europe, I knew that it "old", but I did not know anything about it's history. I don't mean about who conquered whom in what year, etc. It took a book like this one to make you feel the changes being made in the city. And all of this in the seventeenth century!

I had always heard Paris called the "The City of Light." I just assumed it was because it is currently lit up so much. Now, I know the real reason.
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on August 9, 2014
How Paris became Paris is a great primer for someone traveling to Paris or seeking to read a quick history of the city alone. Dejean manages to separate the city from national history and removes political considerations from a story of the city. The focus is on urban planning. Dejean does work hard to relate all the initial and novel trends observed in Paris in the 17th century to current trends in the 21st century. She does a great job of illustrating and arguing the Paris is the first modern city in Europe. My only disappointment was that the extensive notes in the rear consume 30% of the book at the end and aren't linked to the citations in the book. Pictures are also located in to disjointed locations while the author refers to them as if they are in the facing page.
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