[2009-11-05] “Paris”

“Paris” by Colin Jones is a history of the city of Paris, covering the period of about 2,000 years from its days as the Roman camp of Lutetia to the present. The author chronicles its rise to prominence as one of the greatest cities in the world and a major centre for art and fashion. He does not shy away from talking about the horrible attrocities of its past either. This is a book written by someone who clearly loves the city for what it is and what it has been.

The coverage of the 2,000-year period is not uniform, with the author understandably concentrating on some intervals longer than others depending on their influence on the city. There are numerous “feature boxes” spread throughout the chapters of the book that go into more details of a particular topic, ranging from the Louvre to the public toilet. Unlike such boxes in other books, your flow is not interrupted if you start reading them after the text immediately preceding them and the topic in question is usually something alluded to in the last paragraph you were reading in the main text.

Though the overall narrative is fairly linear, there are occasional references to topics that are yet to be covered but that are still relevant to explaining the context of the current topic. This turned out to be not as bad as I had initially feared. The book manages to remain quite entertaining as well as informative throughout the text. This is a well-researched book written in an easy-to-read style. I am sure that even die-hard Paris fans will discover something new about the city if they were to read this book.

You must have stayed in Paris for at least a little while to make sense of some of the things (e.g. street names) that the author talks about in this book. French is thankfully not used extensively in this book - the meanings of the French phrases that are used can easily be guessed or looked up in a dictionary. You should also have a fair knowledge of world history in general and French history in particular to place some of the events and characters in mentioned this book in their proper historical context.

The book has a fair collection of paintings and photographs spread throughout, though all of them were reproduced in low-quality black-and-white prints in the hardcover edition that I read, which was a big disappointment to say the least.

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