Seven Ages of Paris
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Seven Ages of Paris

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  918 ratings  ·  85 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...more
Paperback, 476 pages
Published April 13th 2004 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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Kalliope

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...more
John Norman
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
Kate
Meh.

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......more
Christoph
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
Frank Stein
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...more
Barbie
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...more
Cindy
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...more
Eliot Boden
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
Nathan
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...more
James
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
Avis Black
I generally like Horne's books but this is one of the most intellectually lightweight volumes he's ever produced.
Absurdfarce
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...more
Margaret
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...more
Ryan
Mar 23, 2008 Ryan rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Mark Gaulding
"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
Lucas
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
Alex
Jun 11, 2010 Alex rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Sylvia
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
Elissa
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
Jerry Kinney
What a beautiful expose of a truly great city. Although, I am sure some who have studied some of the personalities in detail would not be satisfied, I thought Horne explained the interconnectedness of the Ages with exquisite precision.
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
Michael
Seven Ages of Paris is a nice, little tour of French history with, of course, a particular focus on the effects of events on the City of Light itself. Horne's love for the city and its inhabitants is manifest. The narrative is organized around seven eras which had exagerated impact on the city, its citizens, France, and the world. The tale is filled with anecdotal material and quirky characters. It's a delightful read, but may be a little too dense for the casual reader. One further drawback for...more
Dayna
I read this after reading Marie Antoinette and John Adams - I wanted to find out more about what was going on in France during the late 1700s.

This is a little dry at times, but when the author gets going on the back stories, it's great.

There is a lot of detail on the architecture and history of buildings in France, which I wasn't really interested in, but got lots of ideas for biographies and detail that I would like to explore in more detail. I already bought a book on Eleanor of Aquitane just...more
Margaret Sankey
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
Charlene
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
Kenneth
Excellent history of Paris from the Merovingian through DeGaulle and the 5th Republic. Details the Frond, Commune,the two wars, the buildings of Paris and so much more. Informative and entertaining.
Jolene Kendry
I didn't get very far into this, it put me to sleep four nights in a row before I set it aside as a lost cause.

If you enjoy dry historical texts where every sentence offers a new name, date or other piece of information so the reader is buried under an avalanche of facts, this is the book for you. It's possible to relate history in an entertaining fashion so the reader doesn't feel he or she is studying for a midterm but in this Alistair Horne sadly fails.

I'm sorely disappointed because I wanted...more
Laurie
I traveled through France and Paris this past Summer (2007). I wish I had read this before going, but am glad I did so now! In fact, it just reaffirmed my desire to get back to Paris in the near future. What a fascinating city!

My only complaint -- some quotes are translated in English, some are left in the original French. ALthough French is a BEAUTIFUL language, this is a book written in English (originally, not a translation). For those who have no or very little French-language experience, a...more
Ben Sweezy
I wish I could have a version of this book for every city I'm interested. Though light on data, statistics, or anything that feels academic, this book gives a wonderful narrative of the city.

Is Paris special? Do other cities have tangible narratives that connect the past to the present? My feeling is that Paris carries the physical memory of its past on its surface in a way that no other city I've been to can.

I read this in tandem with the academic-to-a-fault quasi-Marxist economic history of th...more
Marcy Heller
This book is for lovers of Paris who already know French History. Horne's forte is putting all those kings, emperors, communards and Republicans in their place, giving reason to the layout of the city, and the personality of its inhabitants--the raison d'etre of who they are. Loved it.
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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
More about Alistair Horne...
The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962 To Lose a Battle: France 1940 The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71 La Belle France

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