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I was expecting a mix of geographical The history of Paris from "earliest times" until tomorrow. More distinguished than London, more central to world events than Rome, Paris has long been the world's capital of Paris has been the center of French culture and politics, the great stage of kings, poets, and revolutionaries, the inspiration of artists, and the prize of armies since the Middle Ages. But you can't, because that's the first and last that we hear about General Boulanger, and before you can say "slow your roll, Jones" we're moving on to the Dreyfus Affair, which I still don't understand because it lasted a paragraph.

The book does have some good things going for it: It was nice that he didn't just focus his story on the tourist idea of Paris, but acknowledged the less-picturesque aspects of it. On a related note, my favorite section came towards the end of the book, when Jones discusses the Algerian fight for independence and how the residents of Paris reacted to the conflict.

Did you know that there was a massive pro-Algeria demonstration in Paris in , and the police killed almost protestors, either by beating them to death or drowning them in the Seine?

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Did you know that the French government didn't even acknowledge that this had happened until ? I didn't, and it was mind-blowing. May 17, Margaret rated it really liked it Shelves: Writing a book about a place with as storied a history and culture as Paris can't be easy, but I found this an absorbing read. From Paris's prehistoric origins through to modern times, Jones examines how the city has developed over the centuries in great detail, looking at politics, society, culture, and geography.

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It's organized generally in chronological order, but each chapter also includes several "feature boxes", which are essentially sidebars covering in more detail specific topics, such a Writing a book about a place with as storied a history and culture as Paris can't be easy, but I found this an absorbing read. Colin Jones's history of Paris is subtitled "The Biography of a City," yet the book he provides is virtually the opposite.


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For rather than providing an intimate portrait of the city through the ages, what he offers is an account of the city within the context of the nation's history. This is understandable given Paris's role in France's development, though as Jones demonstrates Paris wasn't always the center of authority in the country. It wasn't until the high Middle Ages that Paris was transfo Colin Jones's history of Paris is subtitled "The Biography of a City," yet the book he provides is virtually the opposite. It wasn't until the high Middle Ages that Paris was transformed from a modest river crossing into the capital of a kingdom, after which it grew spectacularly with the fortunes of the realm.

Paris: The Biography of a City by Colin Jones

Though Jones is good at summarizing the city's early centuries, his chapters on Paris in the 18th and 19th centuries are the strongest. This is understandable, given that he specializes in the era, but his focus on this period over half of the book's chapters are about the post era has the effect of unbalancing his coverage somewhat. Still, his achievement is impressive, as he offers a impressively wide-raging account of the city's social and cultural evolution drawn form the existing French- and English-language literature on the metropolis.

This is by far the best overall history of Paris available in English, one that is necessary reading for anyone interested in the "City of Light" and how it evolved into the place it is today.

Paris: Biography of a City

Aug 12, Nancy rated it liked it. I read it and may even re-read it. This is just what it says: The book is about how Paris came to be starting with early settlement on an island in the Seine and its banks, ever outward to fields and villages whose names remain with us, like Belleville and Montmartre.

It is a story of change, which will truly dispel the idea that Paris is frozen in time. The huge cast of characters who shaped the city includes nobles, workers, politicians, revolutionaries, rab I read it and may even re-read it. The huge cast of characters who shaped the city includes nobles, workers, politicians, revolutionaries, rabble-rousers, saints, monks, students, scientists, gifted engineers and bold architects. But their stories are only told in so far as they shaped the look and layout of the city with its parks, palaces, graveyards, boulevards, walls, markets, humble homes, grand hotels, squares, and factories.

The city is the star here. The author packs in a lot of information and the reader would be well served by having a detailed map of the city handy while reading. This is not for those wanting a causal introduction to the city, but rather for those hungry for more detail. It was a worthwhile read, though I will admit sometimes I felt I was treading water and hoping to make it through some of the sections I found slow going.

This is a hearty meal, not a light lunch. It is filling and satisfying. Nov 01, Brian rated it liked it Shelves: This books greatest strength and weakness is that it is one of the most thorough overviews on the city of Paris history that has been written yet. Unlike many it goes into wonderful detail on the early years of Paris and the build up on the Isle de cite. One of the other drawbacks is that the maps of Paris in the back are just okay but if you have a Paris travel book with good maps you will be better served for following the authors descriptions.

The downside to the detail is that you can get bo This books greatest strength and weakness is that it is one of the most thorough overviews on the city of Paris history that has been written yet. The downside to the detail is that you can get bogged down very easily and lose the authors main point with all of the detail. The book tends to glaze over the post world war II era and I would have liked more explanation of the reconstruction efforts.

Overall it was an excellent summary of Parisian history and put Paris in the context of the entire country. There are many books like this that offer the biography of the city and I would put this one in the middle of those. It is hard to have a very strong opinion of this book since it was neither amazing nor terrible. For those looking to learn some more about the history of the city or those who want another perspective on French history it is probably worth a read but for the general consumer on European history it is probably worth a pass.

Firstl, this is not an easy read. The lack of a narrative or set of events to tie this book together means that I struggled to read it from cover to cover. Having said that, the different sections were often fascinating, and I did really enjoy it. I felt I learned a lot about Paris and France, and now have a renewed interest in visting again. Colin Jones has created a book full of depth, one that shows you the changing face of Paris over time.

I felt that I really understood the way that the dif Firstl, this is not an easy read. I felt that I really understood the way that the different factors have shaped Paris, giving it a unique and fascinating character. Heartily recommended for those who are intereted in Paris, and French culture. Jun 12, Chad rated it liked it. Enjoyable to those who are familiar with and have a great interest in the city's past, but more of a reference to the average tourist. I found much of this book very interesting especially since I recently spent a lot of time wandering around this amazing city. It tends to get somewhat dry in places, but overall a worthy read as the biography that it is.

Nov 10, Mark rated it liked it. If you've been to Paris, it's far more interesting.

Paris: The Biography of a City

I did find that the author got really bogged down into the details of city planning from the mids and continues for the last 50 pages of the book and yet he seems to gloss over major events like the Revolution, Napoleon's ascension, the World Wars. But someone renames a street and he spends two 'graphs talking about it.

Feb 18, Joyce Reynolds-Ward rated it it was amazing. Superb history focused on the growth and development of the history of Paris! Part of me wishes I'd read this before I went to Paris, but a greater part is well aware that it means more being able to make the appropriate connections as I read it. This is also one of those reads that makes learning fun. I learned a lot about unexpected things what a diligence looks like, and its size as well as things I'd expected to learn. Dec 02, Florence May rated it it was amazing.

The most interesting in depth study of Paris Infrastructure, intellectuals, daily life, relationship with royalty, conflicts, growth, education, trash, health Enjoyed the sidebar stories. Not an easy read but fascinating as preparation for my 10 day trip through the various arrondissement.


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  • Jan 28, Allison rated it liked it. Excellent, easy to read history of Paris. 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. Having read the description and a number if positive 5 star reviews of this book, I chose it to develop my understanding of Paris as a city before a recent trip. I was expecting a mix of geographical