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Paris: The Biography of a City

by Colin Jones

Paris: The Biography of a City by Colin Jones

From the Roman Emperor Julian, who waxed rhapsodic about Parisian wine and figs, to Henry Miller, who relished its seductive bohemia, Paris has been a perennial source of fascination for 2,000 years. In this definitive and illuminating history, Colin Jones walks us through the city that was a plague-infested charnel house during the Middle Ages, the bloody epicenter of the French Revolution, the muse of nineteenth-century Impressionist painters, and much more. Jones’s masterful narrative is enhanced by numerous photographs and feature boxes—on the Bastille or Josephine Baker, for instance—that complete a colorful and comprehensive portrait of a place that has endured Vikings, Black Death, and the Nazis to emerge as the heart of a resurgent Europe. This is a thrilling companion for history buffs and backpack, or armchair, travelers alike.

About the Author

Colin Jones is professor of history at the University of Warwick and the author of several works of history, including The Longman Companion to the French Revolution and The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon.


Starred Review. Jones, a historian at Britain's University of Warwick, has written a remarkable account of the most celebrated city in the world that blends history, literary sensibility and experience in an understated, affectionate but not sentimental voice. Moving from prehistoric tribal habitation through Roman times, medieval uncertainty and splendor, early modern religious wars, Enlightenment, revolution, and two world wars, Jones examines how rulers, economy, religion and violence have shaped the city. With a concrete sense of place, he evokes the layering of history revealed in the monuments and less visible remnants of the past. While one might deplore the loss of an earlier Paris in wartime ravages and the triumphs and failures of city planning (especially under the infamous Haussmann), one begins to sense that the extent to which the city has been built, embellished, demolished and rebuilt contributes to its vibrancy. Boxed inserts in each chapter that elaborate on locations and themes at first seem awkwardly placed, but their worth in tying together time and place quickly becomes clear: now-hidden rivers and city walls, a barely recognizable Roman amphitheater, the evolution of restaurants and numerous other sites and topics emerge. The poetry of place established in the early chapters is occasionally overwhelmed by the intensive detail of later time periods, but anyone who loves Paris will find connections and revelations here, a Paris of the mind that resonates through the centuries. B&w illus.—Publishers Weekly

"As comprehensive in detail and scope as a one-volume history of an ages-old city can comfortably be, but written with a decidedly scholarly tone, this "biography" will find its audience among history aficionados and ardent travelers unafraid to make a significant commitment to reading time and concentration. Logically, Jones relates the history of Paris in a chronological narrative. Augmenting his presentation are frequent "feature boxes," which are sidebars that tackle in more depth certain ancillary but definitely relevant topics, including Robert de Sorbon, founder of the great university; famous letter-writer Madame de Sevigne; and the neighborhood called the Marais. From the city known as Lutetia to the ancient Romans, to its status as a major urban center by the twelfth century, to its establishment as the permanent seat of the French monarchy, to its unseating when Louis XIV moved to Versailles, and then beyond, the story of Paris is made both graphic and distinctive."—Brad Hooper, Booklist

"Fascinating. An embarrassment of riches. One wants to visit?or revisit?Paris armed with this new knowledge and enrichment."—Back Cover of ?The Christian Science Monitor