Friday, March 08, 2013

Paris Reborn: the making of Haussmann's Paris

Those who know and love Paris, and think they know all about haussmannien architecture in Paris, will be delighted and informed at an unimagined higher level when they read the absolutely splendid new book by Stephane Kirkland, Paris Reborn:  Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City.

I am only three-quarters of the way through the book, which to me is a gripping narrative, a page-turner. If you love Paris as she exists today, you will simply devour each page.  Stephane Kirkland takes his readers through beginnings of Paris modernization and through the city's massive transformation during the Second Empire.

A few highlights:

"Napoleon... had a large new slaughterhouse built on the edge of the city, with one important consequence:  As of September 15, 1828, it became prohibited to drive cattle through the center of town."

Ponder that for a few moments.

Or Queen Victoria's comments on her visit to Paris in 1855:  "What could I say about this most wonderful city in the world?" in an era when Paris was first learning what it meant to be a tourist destination.

Or Baron Haussmann's disagreements with Hittorff.

There are far too many excellent chapters in the life of  19th-century built Paris to enumerate here, so I simply recommend the book. Over and over.

Kirkland captures the drama, both social and political, and opulence of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century, and begs the reader to ask what Paris would have become if Baron Haussmann had not persisted in his determination to carry out the expansive and visionary urban-planning ideals of Napoleon III.  

For those who love Paris today-- all the many millions of you -- this book is a must-read.  You will always walk down the streets and grand boulevards of Paris henceforth with a knowing and appreciative understanding of how they got to be where they are today.

For those who yearn to know and discover Paris, this is a superb architectural primer on the creation of the most beautiful city in the world. (Yes, of course I'm biased.)

Official publication date is April 2, but you might not want to wait that long to order it.  Ask me!


Déjà Pseu said...

Thanks for this recommendation! I've been on the hunt for more historical Paris-related reading.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Dear Deja Pseu, I promise you will not be disappointed. This is the book that finally put all the pieces of physical Paris together for me. A treasure, and I can't wait to finish it so I can re-read it and (gasp!) underline and note the sections that transformed me as they discussed the transformation of Paris. I studied 19th century French literature, but without this background, so now all the pieces fall in to place!

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I have just finished this book, and feel bereft. So I may have to start reading again, from the beginning. So wonderful! The rise and fall of Baron Haussmann. To think that he lived his final days on rue Boissy d'Anglas (next to my first Paris apartment) -- surely one of the narrower streets in Paris. Irony.

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