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Showing 1-10 of 43 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 57 reviews
on August 8, 2016
A very well written history of the rebuilding of Paris under Louis Napoleon. The author provides a well detailed history of how Paris was transformed from a midevil village to the beautiful, well planned city of today. This represents the largest urban renewal in history, taking a number of decades to accomplish and billions of dollars. It all started with Napoleon's reign and his vision of a world-class, magnificent capital worthy of Napoleon's France. The book is well written, but the amount of detail makes it a slow, laborious read. However, it does shed light on a significant but little known aspect of a major period in French history. The book documents the many problems Napoleon and the man in charge of executing his plan, Baron Haussmann, faced and overcame. These problems are similar to those faced today for any urban renewal project; money, politics, and politicians against progress. It is interesting to note that even Napoleon,a dictator in all but name, had these problems. But, it did get done and it is well documented in this history. My only issue with the book is the laborious passages describing in excruciating detail some aspects of the renewal that I think could have been described in a more readable form.
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on November 15, 2013
This extremely interesting study of the determined and relentless efforts during 1848 to 1870 to re-design and re-engineer the City of Paris casts a new light on the critically important involvement of the Emperor Napoleon III in the overall planning and empowerment of dedicated, efficient administrators and engineers led by Baron Haussmann who have been heralded as the architects of the Paris we know today. While there are many monuments and shrines recalling the accomplishments of Napoleon I, there are hardly any reminders of the fact that entire face of Paris as we know it today is largely due to the almost fanatical determination of Napoleon III to establish Paris as a modern, clean, efficient and breathtakingly beautiful city. Many people know of the contributions of Baron Haussmann, but have looked upon Napoleon III as a relative bystander and political showman rather than a visionary leader and driving force behind one of the most extensive urban modernization efforts in European history. This book succeeds in addressing that misconception.

Yet this is not merely an attempt to rehabilitate the largely discredited monarch whose downfall is still treated as a national holiday in France (with a major thoroughfare in the Paris named for the date of his deposition, September 4, 1870). Kirkland doesn't neglect to mention the ruthless and often cruel manner in which hundreds of thousands of residents of "old Paris" were displaced and the role played by unscrupulous profiteers in the process. It was undoubtedly a massive undertaking that could only have been executed with the force of absolute, brutally despotic government behind the scenes. Students of modern French history and those who love Paris will definitely want to read this new book.

I do agree with some of the other reviewers who lament that decent maps would have been extremely useful additions to this book. Their absence is a notable deficiency. Nevertheless, travel guides and their accompanying maps are readily available and may be more useful to follow along the text.
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on June 1, 2013
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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on May 2, 2017
Haussmann may have been the first 20th-century man. (All right, second to Odysseus.) The transformation of Paris is a fantastically readable tale of two flawed, powerful, visionary "Power Brokers." In less than 20 years, the 19th century turned modern, and the Paris of today is enduring proof of what was accomplished.
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on December 1, 2014
If you want to learn more about the history of a country, study the history of the capital city. This maxim is true in the case of France, I think, and this book proves it. I knew little about the Second Empire before reading this book, and now I want to read more. And I will have a greater appreciation for Paris when I visit again. For good or bad, many cities around the world could use a Baron Haussmann, and many European cities would not be what they are today without the "great works" that transformed Paris. After reading this book, you begin to suspect that many European cities are, in effect, imperfect copies of Paris —the wide, straight boulevards, the parks, the triumphal arches, the great buildings at the end of the boulevards, like background props on the great stage of the city... Paris was indeed "reborn", but it also "invented" many modern European and American cities in the process. It drew their blueprint (just look at Brussels, for instance). One should not assume that Paris was a provincial backwater before Haussmann arrived with his sledgehammer, but it did need some major works. This is both a cautionary and inspiring tale for many city authorities around the world.
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on August 5, 2017
A fascinating story of why we all love Paris. I highly recommend this book !!
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on September 25, 2015
This is an interesting book about the grabd travaux, as long as you read others. Its is entertainog and easy to read ( got through 90% in two days) but has little detail about the actual urbanism and architecture involved. The book is more concerned with the personal stories of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann, thus leaving large details out regarding the works, engineering and general urban details and criticism.
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on February 27, 2015
An absolutely excellent analysis of the "remaking" of Paris, from a basically medieval city to essentially the city we know today. Well written, well researched, easy to read as well. A must have for anyone interested in the history of Paris. Here is one of those rare authors, who knows what he is writing about, and communicates it in an interesting way, making it as easy to read as a good novel. If there was a six-star rating -- I'd give the book seven !!
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on May 14, 2013
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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on May 11, 2013
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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