Synopses & Reviews
When Paris was a small island in the middle of the Seine, its gentle climate, natural vineyards and overhanging fig trees made it the favorite retreat of Roman emperors and de facto capital of western Europe. Over two millennia the muddy Lutetia, as the Romans called Paris, pushed its borders far beyond the Right and Left Banks and continued to stretch into the imagination and affection of visitors and locals. Now the spirit of Paris is captured by the celebrated historian Alistair Horne, who has devoted twenty-five years to a labor of love.
Seven Ages of Paris begins with the reign of the forceful Philippe Auguste, who greatly expanded the Capetian kingdom before devoting himself to fortifying the city and to the construction of the Louvre. Paris shed blood in the Hundred Years War and in the religious wars between Catholics and Huguenots and prospered under Henri IVs reconciliation. His grandson, Louis XIV, built the famed palace at Versailles and patronized the playwrights Molière and Racine. With the ancien régime swept away by the Revolution, Napoleon ushered in the Imperial age, and, subsequently, the Second Empire. Partly to dampen Pariss revolutionary zeal, Baron Haussmann modernized the city: avenues were widened, squares expanded and the medieval market at Les Halles razed.
Horne portrays the Prussians bivouacking on the Champs-Elysées in 1871. Paris bounced back after the war: the 1900 World Exposition showed off an electrified Champs-Elysées and the Métro station entrances in the Art Nouveau style. Most visibly, the Eiffel Tower went up in 1889 to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Revolution.
The hubris of the Belle Epoque led straight into the Great War. The Armistice and the Paris Peace Conference sealed a phoney peace, and when war resumed the city suffered four terrible years of occupation and was visited by Hitler himself. Liberation brought the last of Hornes seven ages, the Fifth Republic, headed by de Gaulle.
Seven Ages of Paris also recalls the women who defined Parisian lifefrom Héloïse down to Josephine Baker. With an elegiac description of the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Horne brings to an end a brilliantly written history of the worlds most captivating city.
"Horne's purpose is not to be encyclopedic but to paint a portrait, and this he does surpassingly well. A fluid, graceful, deliberate prose stylist who drops in the occasional, wholly engaging haut-Brit Anglicism, he takes his jolly good time as the vast pageant unfolds
.one must allocate a long time to reading it, lest a single word be missed...." Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
"Horne brings to this brilliant and entertaining account the same urban passion that Peter Ackroyd brought to his recent 'biography' of London and it is sure to delight Francophiles everywhere." Publishers Weekly
"A rich, vigorously fresh study for history lovers." Booklist
"Horne does a commendable job of distilling an impressive amount of material in an eminently readable narrative that shows just how important Paris is to the history of the West, and indeed the world. A lively primer of Parisian history, just the right companion for travelers to the city seeking a deeper understanding of the view before them." Kirkus Reviews
An unprecedented history of Paris--the result of a 25-year labor of love undertaken by the renowned English historian. Horne's telling of the story of Paris is as impassioned as it is comprehensive, as anecdotal as it is historically informed. A landmark history of the city, and a delight for anyone who has fallen under its indelible spell. Photos. Illustrations.