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Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 Hardcover – January 5, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As the primary conduit for goods and people, the Seine helped turn Paris into a thriving commercial center. But the river also brought destruction and death through periodic winter flooding. Important efforts were made in the 19th century to regulate the river, but a key proposal to raise the level of the quay walls was botched. By the second week of 1910, water from rising rivers washed through and wreaked havoc on villages upriver from Paris. By January 22, Parisians were forced out of homes; the river and the warehouse district of Bercy was particularly devastated and with it the city's precious wine supply. Water from the Seine was carried by the Métro into other areas on the right bank, but Parisians rallied. They established wooden walkways while soldiers rescued people from the water and prevented looting without occupying the city. Enlivened by period photographs of a flooded Paris, this is a capable, well-researched history of a modern city's battle with nature, but Rhodes College history professor Jackson's attempts to make connections with recent events like Katrina or the suburban Paris riots are tepid. 17 b&w photos. (Jan.)
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"It’s hard to imagine a more thoroughly researched history of the Paris, France, flood of 1910 than PARIS UNDER WATER by Jeffrey H. Jackson.  With the national debate roaring on whether post-Katrina New Orleans should be rebuilt, PARIS UNDER WATER offers the definitive answer of yes.  A truly first-rate book." --Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge:Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast

"PARIS UNDER WATER is a riveting account of a natural catastrophe that struck Paris in 1910.  Going far beyond the boundaries of environmental or urban history, it draws on an exceptionally wide array of sources to offer the reader a meticulous, yet rich and personal, reconstruction of what the great flood felt like to contemporaries, what it revealed about social tensions and solidarities, and what it signified on a broader historical scale.  Jackson has succeeded masterfully in telling a fascinating story in a way that any reader will find utterly irresistible, while applying insightful and erudite scholarly analysis in a way that sheds light on a great city’s social, economic, and cultural life.  A tour de force of scholarship and brilliantly creative craftsmanship." --Michael D. Bess, author of Choices Under Fire:Moral Dimensions of World War II

"Before New Orleans, there was Paris.  The Great Paris Flood of 1910, which paralyzed the world’s most modern city and caused over a billion euros (by today’s standards) worth of damage, provides a fascinating study of physical and social devastation and human survival.  Jackson blends the vivid details of the flood--exploding sewer covers, disintegrating streets--with the wider historical context, from the Commune of 1871 to World War I, and the psychology of disaster.  Modernization itself contributed to Paris’s destruction.  But, as Jackson concludes, in the end Paris survived the flood because it was a functioning human community, not because it was a modern metropolis.  Any student of history or lover of Paris will want to read this book." --Sarah Smith, The Knowledge of Water, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year

"Fascinating work, important story, beautifully told. Jackson tells us about a little-known flood of a well-known city, Paris. He weaves seamlessly together the political and cultural significance of the flood, all while engaging the reader with stories about what the flood meant for everyday life. A fine achievement." --Lee Clarke, author of Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination

"Narratives of natural disasters often show swift and all-consuming devastation, but PARIS UNDER WATER is a story of waters rising.  Set against the backdrop of the world’s most beautiful city, the Seine itself is at the center of the story ­ from its role in making Paris a modern city to the day in 1910 when Parisians stood on its banks and watched it climb several feet a day, carrying debris from flooded towns in the countryside.  Through Jackson’s deft storytelling and first-hand accounts, we see the terror of watching a disaster slowly, methodically drown a city and a community’s fight to survive it." --Molly Caldwell Crosby, An American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History

"Stories about Paris have left us with a rich profile of a city at the vanguard of political action and cultural life.  Yet Jeffrey H. Jackson’s new book muddies these familiar waters.  His gripping account of the 1910 flood recounts the highs and the lows of what happened when water “shorted out” the city of light.  With a knack for the diversity of human response to disaster and the historian’s eye for the telling detail, Jackson draws our attention to how nature interacts with our greatest of human-wrought environments:  the metropolis.  This book not only is an important tale, worthy of being told but it also will open the door to reconsiderations of the interaction of technology and the environment in ways that are vitally relevant today." --Vanessa R. Schwartz, It’s So French: Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; Book Club Edition edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230617069
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230617063
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,551,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Professor Jackson's book finally provides English-language audiences with a historical narrative of the little-known Paris flooding of 1910. While Paris is one of the most written-about cities, and this era (the belle epoque) is one of the most written-about periods in Paris history, Jackson has unearthed a gripping tale of belle epoque Paris that we have not yet heard much about. Largely relegated to local and popular memory in Paris, the flooding of 1910 is exactly the kind of forgotten moment that historians long to find hidden in the archive. Jackson's exemplary research and writing have done just that. In flowing, readable prose, Jackson describes the catastrophic flooding, the ways it shut down the city, and the ways that Parisians banded together to survive the disaster. Not just a story for those interested in the environmental history of natural disasters, this book focuses more on the human dimensions of the flooding - the disaster's social, political and cultural effects and the human response to disaster. The book is saturated with rich, detailed narrative of daily events during the flooding and eye-witness reactions from Paris memoirs and other texts, giving the reader a vivid sense of Paris's damp, cold and disorder in January of 1910. This story holds important lessons for students of disaster management, urban history, environmental history and French history, and Jackson has carefully crafted the book to be equally readable and rewarding for scholars and laypersons alike. This is excellent reading for those interested in how human communities (especially cities) respond to disasters like the Paris heatwave of 2003 or Hurricane Katrina.
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Format: Hardcover
Paris Under Water is a clearly written narrative about the flood of the Seine in Paris during January and February 1910. Jackson takes a lesser-known event and spins an evocative, non-fiction account of both unknown and well-known victims and both anonymous and famous places (especially memorable scenes include: the Louvre Museum threatened by rising water; the Orsay train station platforms seemingly lagooned and unusable; the Metro tunnels flooded and fetid). I especially loved Jackson's use of the period photographs that begin each chapter and are occasionally scattered throughout the text. They enliven the story and help the reader imagine the scene. Paris has been the subject of beautiful and touristy photographs for more than 100 years--it's fascinating to see Paris "underwater" and in a new way. Jackson and the photographs he chose also focus on the ways in which everyday Parisians pitched in and helped one another during the crisis--definitely a useful lesson as more and more disasters seem to threaten our world and require us once again to come to the aid of others.
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Format: Hardcover
The mark of a high-quality work of history is the ability to weave compelling storytelling with an explanation of the story's deeper meaning. In "Paris Under Water," Jeff Jackson has given us such an achievement. The story of the flood--how it was caused, what damage it wrought, how Parisians responded--is recreated from a number of interesting sources and weaved into a gripping narrative. But his interpretation of the event, most notably the way in which the flood forged, strengthened, and embodied a national and local character and became an important "trial run" of national unity prior to the the Great War, deepens the experience for the reader.

Over the past few years, chronicles of disasters and the ways in which people respond to them have become increasingly relevant and interesting. Douglas Brinkley's "The Great Deluge," Rebecca Solnit's "A Paradise Built in Hell," Campanella's and Vale's "Resilient Cities," and others have delved into the intensity of post-disaster experiences. "Paris Under Water" joins these other important works as a must-read for anyone interested in the physical, civic, cultural, and spiritual components of disasters. And Jackson has established himself as a rare writer who gracefully bridges the often insurmountable gap between academic rigor and popular accessibility.
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Format: Hardcover
I know that Paris is called "La Ville-Lumière" (the City of Light), the city for lovers, where Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire danced through the bistros and into the streets, and that we love it in the spring time...and evidently every other moment of the year. We love it through the Hollywood lens. Until I read Paris Under Water, I did not know that its people, its year round citizens, had endured such a calamitous flood as it did in January of 1910 and at a time of year when it is already cold and damp and difficult to be warm and comfortable. This amazing and complex story of the flooding of basements and streets and train stations and fields throughout Paris is laid out for us in historical detail and in a story form that makes it a good read. The flood affected the citizens of Paris, and their neighborhoods, stores and factories and this book gives us those stories. I do recommend this book for history buffs and winter readers and beach readers and for people like me who like to learn new things about places we think we already know.
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Format: Hardcover
By 1910, Paris was truly the "City of Lights". It was the most electrified city in Europe and at night it sparkled like a giant candelabra. Baron Hausmann had tamed the Seine and built citywide sewers that kept the city clean of both disease and the River which was it's main source of transit for goods and resources. The Metropolitan was expanding to the edges of the city and people could travel on the clean, quite conveyance without having to deal with the murderous traffic on the streets.

But the Seine is not a lady to be taken lightly. One of the major problems that the re-constructors of the City had not taken into account, were the old (some dating back to Roman times) sewer systems and the catacombs underneath the City. Also, by creating the "Quai" system they had assumed that they had prepared for any eventuality of the River in flood stage during the 'Spring Flood' season. But when you constrict a river from it's flood plan you create a torrent that speeds up as the volume of water is pinched into a smaller area. By constricting the width of the Seine you forced it into a ravine that raged through Paris.

No one had taken into account the effect on the river in areas just outside the City that didn't have a quai system and would have nothing to stop the river from overflowing it's banks. We see this effect on the Mississippi year after year, as the Missouri-Mississippi convergence is very much like the Marne-Seine convergence, two major rivers that drain large areas (48,000 square miles for the Seine). Paris had a major weather problem in January 1910; it rains the majority of the month and saturated the surrounding lands. With the ground unable to take up any more water (like a sponge fully saturated); the January rains had no where to go.
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