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Seven Ages of Paris

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,386 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
In this luminous portrait of Paris, celebrated historian Alistair Horne gives us the history, culture, disasters, and triumphs of one of the world’s truly great cities. Horne makes plain that while Paris may be many things, it is never boring.

From the rise of Philippe Auguste through the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIV (who abandoned Paris for Versailles); Napoleon’s rise
Paperback, 476 pages
Published April 13th 2004 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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London by Peter AckroydSeven Ages of Paris by Alistair HorneLondon by Edward RutherfurdSalonica, City of Ghosts by Mark MazowerA History of Venice by John Julius Norwich
Histories of Cities
2nd out of 104 books — 60 voters
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Books About Paris
77th out of 462 books — 479 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jul 08, 2014 Kalliope rated it really liked it

She is a woman.

I mean she is female.

And she is not just any female.

She is of colossal fame.

A mythical female she is.

And yet she is well alive and exists today.

Because she has more presence than you or I have.

I am talking about resplendent Paris.

For if this woman is outstandingly beautiful and alluring, at times she as also been violent and bloodthirsty and this mix of personas has made her eminently enigmatic and mysterious.

Alistair Horne in this book traces the history of Paris through what
John Norman
Feb 04, 2012 John Norman rated it it was ok
This book is a real mediocrity. I'm living in Paris for a few months, so it seemed only reasonable to read a book that is a "history of Paris." Well, this isn't it. What this is, is a history of political events in France, and the impact of those events on the rulers of Paris, and, to some extent, the ordinary middle-class and poor. You learn very little of the changes in the governmental structure, the organization of the food supply, the periods of architectural change -- isn't that what a his ...more
Jan 21, 2012 Kate rated it it was ok

If you're looking for a history of Paris, I wonder if perhaps one would just do better getting one of the excellent books on the history of France. This book is an aging British scholar's love letter to Paris - and it read that way.

My pre-modern knowledge of Paris is weak, so I enjoyed that part of the book more.

However, my recent history is fairly good, and there the book really failed. There were a few too many throw-away descriptive adjectives - the Pompidou is an "eyesore" (possibly...
Themes: civilization, war, government, religion, politics, city development, art, architecture, royalty

Setting: Paris, France from before 1000 AD to 1968

The author starts by saying that every city is like a person, and Paris is definitely a woman. Like any fascinating woman, she is changeable and captivating. I'm not entirely sure this conceit works, but it's not a bad way to start off the book.

Here's what works: I could certainly feel the amount of research that must have gone into this book. I
Marti Graham
Mar 22, 2015 Marti Graham rated it it was amazing
If you want to really know about PARIS, this is the book to read.
Jul 17, 2009 Barbie rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's very dense with information on how the omnipresent relationships between Paris, her rulers, her people and her country at large has formed her over her long history, but is written in a very easy flowing, conversational way. Allistair Horne is a master of descriptive language and transitions, but the book is not burdened with fancy language for its own sake.

Horne is a Francophile, and writes lovingly of the storied, often tempestuous history of Paris — and th
Frank Stein
Apr 12, 2010 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing
Somehow Horne manages to write an entire history of France by telling the entire history of Paris without being pedantic or stodgy. It's an amazing accomplishment from a journalist with no formal historical training.

As Horne himself says it was probably necessary to combine the history of the country with the city, because in France, government, business, and culture have been centralized in its capital city as in no other Western country. Ever since Philippe Auguste in the early 1200s built an
Eliot Boden
Aug 27, 2016 Eliot Boden rated it did not like it
Shelves: europe, france, history
Incredibly disappointing. While this book is marketed as popular introduction to Parisian history, perhaps something lively to read before a vacation, the writing is dull and oftentimes confusing. Horne could not decide on an audience for this book. Such a cursory overview of millennia of French history cannot appeal to someone already familiar with the likes of Louis XIV or Napoleon. Even so, the oblique references to people and events, often with no background explanation, make the narrative d ...more
I read this as background for my class on the literature of Paris. It is an excellent overview of the history and culture of the city. Covering the history from the foundation of the city the author blends the cultural development with history. The impact of art from the Renaissance to the age of Impressionism that ushered in the twentieth century helped offset the intermittent devastation of war and revolution. Over the centuries is was home to Peace conferences and Art exhibits. Nearest to my ...more
Dec 16, 2010 Nathan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A slog, all the way through. Horne's organization of Paris's history into seven ages is neat, if rather arbitrary, and it highlights the tumult that characterizes the city. If his orgnization is clear, however, that's about all that's clear in this rambling tome. Fact, fact, fact, character, character, date, uprising, some more facts and dates; there is no narrative guidance to speak of. One gropes and stumbles through this book more than reads it.

Adding to the obfuscation is Horne's annoying ha
Margaret Sankey
Mar 23, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Horne loves Paris, and has been collecting information his entire career, most of which has found its way into his accounts of other events. This volume centers that wealth of accumulated stories, connections and poignant details into a portrait of the city herself--medieval center of royal power, focus of the religious wars, left behind by Louis XIV, ground zero of the revolution, given a face lift by Baron Haussmann, lively with the Belle epoque, ravaged by two wars and revival as the center o ...more
Avis Black
Dec 23, 2008 Avis Black rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I generally like Horne's books but this is one of the most intellectually lightweight volumes he's ever produced.
Paul Haspel
Jan 11, 2015 Paul Haspel rated it really liked it
Shelves: paris
The seven ages of Paris, according to historian Alistair Horne, can be organized around Philippe Auguste, Henri IV, Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Commune, the Treaty of Versailles, and de Gaulle; and such a plan of organization seems suitable for Seven Ages of Paris, Horne’s thorough and well-written exploration of the life of the French capital.

I first encountered the work of the Cambridge-educated Horne when I read his 1969 book To Lose a Battle: France 1940 for a history class at William & Mar
Sep 08, 2015 Miriam rated it liked it
This book does not know what it wants to be when it grows up. Sometimes, it's a scholarly insider's take on Parisian history, meaning you have to already know the details to get the jokes or the significance of the broad, ponderous statements. Other times, it's so generalist and condescending that I wanted to stop reading it. Sometimes he translates the French, sometimes he doesn't--there's no clear reason. And sometimes he'll just leave one word in a quotation in French, just for the fun of it. ...more
Mar 23, 2008 Ryan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to learn about Parisian history
This is a fascinating history of the city of Paris, from its origins as a Roman stronghold to the Cold War 1960s. It's a bit slow to read at first, but easier to sink into eventually as the author turns his historical eye toward more modern events (i.e., after the 1789 Revolution).

As the epigraph for Chapter 18 says, "Paris is a bitch... one should not become infatuated with bitches, particularly when they have wit, imagination, experience and tradition behind their ruthlessness." Prepare for t
Lets make this a 1.5 stars or 3 out of 10. I am so close to giving this book 1 star; it is extremely disappointing. I have had this book sitting on my shelf for years now and I see why I have never read it. You would expect a book entitled the Seven Ages of Paris to be a history of the interminable city; alas, all we get in this tired narrative is a history of the "Seven Ages" which are a completely contrived device to make the story somewhat more readable. Further, according to Mr. Horne appare ...more
Sep 22, 2016 Sara rated it did not like it
Shelves: own, history, france, dnf
I couldn't actually finish the book. There were so many factual errors, I didn't want to waste my time reading something that's so inaccurate. I'm honestly shocked a "historian" would publish something like this.
Apr 29, 2010 Margaret rated it really liked it
I paired this book with dozens of walks around Paris, a few visits to Musée Carnavalet, and I took it with me to a number of the monuments whose histories its author, Alistair Horne, describes in such rich and plentiful detail. Reading this book actually in Paris is, I think (not surprisingly) absolutely the best way to read it.

For me, some parts of this book moved more easily and more vivaciously than others, and I'm not sure whether this was due to the writing or to the history itself. Certai
Robert Morris
Apr 27, 2016 Robert Morris rated it liked it
This is great fun, but I'm pretty sure it is not the book Alistair Horne wanted to write. Published in 2002 by an octogenarian writer, my guess is that it was intended as a final summing up sort of love letter to Paris. For half a century, Horne has been a celebrated British historian of France. He walks his way through the seven ages he has identified, from the medieval period through to the present day.

It's all beautifully written, and full of delightful chunks of information. But the book on
Nov 23, 2015 Absurdfarce rated it really liked it
Shelves: france
A history of France's capital from it's creation to I.M. Pei's pyramid. Horne clearly knows his topic well and writes in elegant, rhythmic prose.

That said, there are a few complaints. At times the author does shade a bit towards a gratuitous display of learning, although fortunately these moments don't prove as distracting as one might fear. There's also a strong focus on the "great men" in French history; a bit more on the commoners would have been appreciated. Finally, the book is structured i
Jun 07, 2015 MT rated it really liked it
Horne wrote, from what I can tell, this book from a collection of notes taken while working on other projects. All of the gossip and saucy revelations that he couldn't fit into more important texts ended up becoming the nucleus of this one.

So it's not intended to be a super serious read. After writing all of his super serious books he's had a bit of a wild escape with this one, choosing the bits of Parisian and French history that he likes and leaving the rest of it to footnotes or a paragraph
Jul 27, 2015 Sue rated it liked it
In this luminous portrait of Paris, celebrated historian Alistair Horne gives us the history, culture, disasters, and triumphs of one of the world’s truly great cities. Horne makes plain that while Paris may be many things, it is never boring.

From the rise of Philippe Auguste through the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIV (who abandoned Paris for Versailles); Napoleon’s rise and fall; Baron Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris (at the cost of much of the medieval city); the Belle Epoque and the Great W
Mark Gaulding
Dec 28, 2008 Mark Gaulding rated it liked it
"I enjoyed this book. However, there were portions of it that were much easier to get through than others. I was somewhat familiar with the periods of Louis X through Louis XVI and I found I was much more involved in the book during these ""ages."" However, when they got to the World War I and World War II and post World War II I found it more difficult to keep up. The Vichy/Petain characters were a bit of a muddle for me reading. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the entire book immensely. ...more
Mar 17, 2008 Sylvia rated it really liked it
History of Paris from ancient times to present. Its taken me a few years to read this book. I did not think I would be interested to read about 20th century events, but each successive chapter continued to hold my interest, as the time periods progressed. Lots of interesting details to supplement the political and economic events that created Paris. Learned who all the streets are named after, how the city was built, sorted out who's buried at Pere LaChaise, all the kings and republics, and the ...more
Jun 27, 2013 Lucas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first two thirds are generally interesting, but the book loses shape around the 1850s and onwards. Horne betrays a lack of perspective in equalizing the 19 years of 'de Gaulle' and the 300 years between 1314 and 1643 both as Ages. Maybe he just knows more about (or prefers) modern Parisian history, but the twentieth century sections get bogged down in forgettable names and minor political skirmishes. (Or maybe I prefer the grandeur of a royal scandal to the revolutions of les communards and ...more
Jun 11, 2010 Alex rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
This book is sick. It amounts to a history of France, but Horne stays focused on the real Paris, as it was and as it is, in a wonderful way, while providing awesome insight into the character of Parisians and of France in general. It's an awesome book.

I was reminded of fellow Goodreader F1Wild, who doesn't like military history. I don't either, so I was psyched that Horne breezes by military affairs, while giving much more shrift to art, literature. architecture, fashion, and the rest of what ma
Jul 14, 2011 Elissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An excellent history that covers Paris from the Romans to Mitterand. Not so much detail on the early stuff (the material covered in The Distant Mirror was dispatched in 3 pages). Horne didn't waste much time on the fall of Louis XVI either, which I appreciated, because I've been over that territory before. But it filled in a lot of missing holes for me in the story of Paris. Those Parisians are always up for a revolution! Did you know that the Parisians never got their sewers under control until ...more
Jun 11, 2015 Deb rated it really liked it
From Julius Caesar to the student riots of 1968, Paris has been many things, but never boring. Historian Horne begins with an introduction which covers the founding of Paris , the Roman city of Lutetia, and ends with the Age of Abelard in the 12th century. He then divides the remaining eight centuries into seven "ages:" 1180-1314: Philippe Auguste; 1314-1643: Henri IV; 1643-1795: Louis XIV; 1795-1815: Napoleon; 1815-1871: The Commune; 1871-1940: Belle Epoque.The Great War.The Phoney War; 1940-19 ...more
Sharon Roy
This book is well written, and provide a great overview of the history of one of my favourite cities. Paris has a rather complex history, and having learned more about it, I feel I understand the city more. I still love it despite that knowledge ;-). I find the book is really meant for someone who already knows quite a bit of the history as this book glosses over some of the more important bits (like the French revolution, for example). I was also a lot more interested in the pre-Roman and medie ...more
Aug 18, 2013 Charlene rated it liked it
Confession: It took me 3 months to get through this book. At times, I'd read a chapter & go back to a novel. It wasn't until the last 200 pages that I read compulsively -- the parts about the Commune, WWI, de Gaulle, Algeria and the 1968 student revolt were by far the most interesting. I was disappointed that so few pages were spent on the Revolution but maybe it didn't fit into the "ages of Paris". Really appreciated the inclusion of the art,literature and music of each of the seven ages (p ...more
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Alistair Horne is a preeminent historian, journalist and Oxford fellow who has written seventeen books, many of them on the military history of France.He has won the following awards: Hawthornden Prize, 1963, for The Price of Glory; Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Prize and Wolfson Literary Award, both 1978, both for A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962; French Légion d'Honneur, 1993, for work ...more
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