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on January 27, 2017
In his book, Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, Stephane Kirkland argues that the history of the transformation of Paris under Baron Haussmann cannot be understood without including Napoleon III in the narrative. To Kirkland, Haussmann is too often viewed as the beginning and end of Paris’s urban reforms. Further, Kirkland does not see the transformation of Paris as a fundamentally positive thing. He instead argues that the re-development of Paris was “a heavy-handed enterprise, which achieved its ends at tremendous human and cultural cost and wiped from the map an old, much-loved Paris that we will never know” (2).

Lastly, Kirkland argues that, under the Second Empire, Paris became a monument itself. While past rulers and legislatures had erected numerous monuments throughout the city, Napoleon III and Haussmann intended for Paris to be a monument to global humanism. While he decries Napoleon III’s iron fist, much of this book simply consists of Kirkland saying how much he loves the beauty of Paris. For good measure, Kirkland compares late nineteenth-century Paris to late nineteenth-century New York in order to illustrate how Paris was so perfect that Americans could not successfully emulate it.

While this book is informative, it is not suitable for academics. Instead, it is a work aimed for a general public that is interested in the history of Paris. While the writing is easy to follow, it is not very good. When discussing the newly installed emperor’s designs on France, Kirkland writes, “In early 1853, no one yet knew what to expect from the reign of this newly installed emperor. One of the first things he did was unexpected: He got married” (52). It is true that this is an interesting biographical fact, but the author does not execute it well.

Worse, the author’s use of sources are very slim and he gives little reference to other histories of Paris—within the academy or without. When there are citations, the reader is left wondering why Kirkland would choose those sources. For example, the author has six citations in the first chapter. Of them, four are directly quoted from Voltaire and one points to a biography of Voltaire that was written in 1867. Recent secondary sources are uncommon. Moreover, there is scarcely an introduction or a conclusion to his work. While there are chapters that function in this role, they do not add anything meaningful to his text.

While this book will work fine for someone who wants a light read about the emergence of Paris as we know it today, it should not be seen as a serious work of scholarship.
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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 November 5, 2017
"The willingness to impose restrictions on private rights in the interest of the quality of the shared space" provides the essential crux of how Baron Haussman and Napoléon III were able to stimulate the rebirth of Paris into the city that so many of us know and love. An entertaining read for any Francophile/Parisophile but, unlike Haussman and Paris, Paris Reborn lacks a driving conviction to create something cohesive in style and timeless in quality.

The unfortunate aspect of this book is that the author, Stephane Kirkland, never laid a firm foundation for me (and I imagine most readers) to create a workable and multi-dimensional understanding of all the elements needed give Paris its rebirth. This is to say that Kirkland expects the reader to have an image of what Paris was like before it became the Paris known today. Unfortunately, even those who know Paris well, (I'm including myself) will have trouble following the litany of street, buildings, and landmarks recounted through out. At times this made me think the book should be read with two maps in hand : one of medieval Paris and one of modern day Paris. This cumbersome act would have no doubt added much to my ability to create a multidimensional sense of how incredible Paris' rebirth was/is in a historical context.

The recounting of the Second Empire's history also follows multiple paths that fail to weave a cohesive backdrop (or a rather complex backdrop). Kirkland jumps between years and historical figures in addition to topics of finances, politics, culture, and aesthetics but never manages to tie it all together. Instead these topics are interjected among each other and it is left to the reader to organize them. I'm thankful that the book doesn't follow the linear path of time but much could have been done to give the reader more structure on which to drape the different elements of this history.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed this book for its ability to transport me to a Paris unknown to me and to the Paris that I love. It is a book I would recommend to anyone want to learn more about the Second Empire or the history of Paris. If anything this book has reminded that Paris is worth a visit!
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on September 29, 2014
This is superb urban history. It should be of intense interest to anyone interested in French history, especially of the second empire, and to anyone who has been to Paris and wondered how the modern city came to be as it is, in general and in detail. It will also be of great interest to students of urban studies in general, as it deals with architecture, city planning, re-development, urban sociology, finance, and the politics of all this. The author has studied in Paris and has degrees in architecture and art history. He has worked as an architect and divides his time between Paris and Brooklyn. He writes engagingly and well. My only reservation is that, in attempting to correct the historical record which gives too much credit to Baron Haussmann for the transformation of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century he shifts the balance a bit too far in giving all the credit for urban planning to others, notably Napoleon III, whose loyal and faithful executant Haussmann was, in carrying out the emperor's overall vision. Kirkland's own account suggests that, particularly as specifics were concerned, Haussmann had to do a great deal of the planning--of locations of squares, of placement of train stations, and other important features, for instance. But this is a matter of emphasis and interpretation.
Kirkland reveals a certain amount of ambivalence about the radical changes in general--which we can probably all share. After all, this enormous creative achievement involved a great deal of destruction--of sociologically mixed neighborhoods, the displacement of residents, and the loss of what some would have regarded as the charm of the old streets, especially in the Latin Quarter. And the whole thing was done in a very autocratic top down way, with decrees from the emperor. But no one could possibly regret the modern sewers and much cleaner water supplies--and the absence of filth and stench which living in the old Paris involved, and which was brought about during the period of the second empire, in addition to brighter and safer streets at night. By the way, Kirkland reports that the uniform heights of the Paris buildings, which is so striking an aspect of modern Paris, especially in contrast to American buildings, was Haussmann's doing.
Haussman's new, wide boulevards were brought about through clever financial juggling, very difficult politics, and a lot more borrowing than was publicly admitted at the time. Much of the financing was in the hands of a very few individuals with insider information--something not exactly approved of even then. The roadways were constructed---over the sewers--without buildings at first, except at the corners. Building followed, involving considerable profit and considerable inflation in the cost of housing.
Haussmann was not an architect. His relations with architects were not always amiable, and the choice of architects was by no means always up to him. A highlight of the book--for me--was the account of how the architect, whose name the Garnier Opera House carries, was selected.
Highly recommended. And a really good read.
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on 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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on May 2, 2017
In this well written history of Second Empire Paris, Kirkland wants to redress what he sees as a problem in histories about Haussmann and Paris. Kirkland wants to include Napoleon III in the story too. He has a point. When we think about the Paris of this age we think about Haussmann's Paris. We don't think about Napoleon III's Paris. So Kirkland focuses on Napoleon III but he also focuses on the urban, economic, social, scientific and cultural forces that allowed both Haussmann and Napoleon III to succeed in transforming Paris over two decades in the nineteenth century.

The author wants you to believe that Napoleon III was the true reason we have the Paris of today. While he is not wrong he is not right either. The vast majority of why we have Paris the way it is today is because of Baron Haussmann. Also, the author lovingly describes the transformation of so many streets but sadly didn't provide a single map of Paris. There are a few color depictions at the back of the book of notable people (3). But I would rather have had two maps to see what Paris looked like before Haussmann's transformations and what it looked like after.

If you want a light history of the time period that focuses on Paris then get this book. It's an easy read.
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on May 20, 2013
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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VINE VOICEon October 26, 2013
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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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 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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