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Paris: The Biography of a City

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  333 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
A gifted historian recounts the breathtaking pageant of the most beautiful, inspiring, and culturally significant city in the world 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 ...more
ebook, 592 pages
Published April 4th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 2004)
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This book's front cover proudly features a quote by Neil McGregor, director of the British Museum, who called this book "Exhilarating." Sounds like a good enough recommendation, but let's consider the source: generally, the sort of people who become directors of world-famous museums are also the sort of people who think that looking at pottery shards is exhilarating.

What I'm trying to say here is that while Paris: The Biography of a City is certainly interesting for those who really want to lea
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. 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 ...more
Jun 03, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Colin Jones's history of Paris is subtitled "The Biography of a City," yet the book he provides is virtually the opposite. 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 ...more
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 ...more
Aug 12, 2013 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read it and may even re-read it. This is just what it says: the biography of the city of Paris. 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 ...more
Doug Newdick
Mar 31, 2014 Doug Newdick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Oct 10, 2009 Chad rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very comprehensive history of Paris starting around 50 BC when it was known as Lutetia by Julius Caesar. 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.
Joyce Reynolds-Ward
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 23, 2009 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really, really good. If you've been to Paris, it's far more interesting. I did find that the author got really bogged down into the details of city planning from the mid-1800s 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.
Florence May
Dec 02, 2011 Florence May rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most interesting in depth study of Paris ... Infrastructure, intellectuals, daily life, relationship with royalty, conflicts, growth, education, trash, health .... Everything Parisian. Enjoyed the sidebar stories. Not an easy read but fascinating as preparation for my 10 day trip through the various arrondissement.

Nov 08, 2015 Jan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
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 history, economic history and social history, with more of a leaning towards the latter. I was disappointed. It is mainly geographical history, an overview of Paris's town planning over the millennia. For me it lacked the personal. There wasn't enough time given to how changes in the physicality of ...more
Jon Riekenberg
Apr 04, 2009 Jon Riekenberg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really like Paris and I want to like this book, but holy boring book, Batman! I've stopped reading this for now and moved on.
Damn, it was a real chore at times. Too much in a list form to keep me interested the whole time.
Excellent, easy to read history of Paris.
May 08, 2013 Bap rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a biography of a city from Roman times to the present day. It is uneven but is worth sticking with it. He warms to the task in covering that great urban planner Haussmann who together with Napoleon III, remade the city and began what we call urbanism, he targeted the revitalization of the center city and build broad boulevards radiating out of the city. He also built beautiful train stations with the idea of radiating out by rail to reinforce that Paris was the heart of the country. ...more
Sarah Finch
A good, solid tour through Parisian history, starting with Roman times and proceeding through the turn of this new century. Jones does an excellent job of navigating the tricky intersection between national and local politics that has made the city's history so complex, and particularly shines in his recounting of the time between Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte. Much attention is justly paid to the architecture and the preservationist campaigns in Paris, particularly as it relates to Haussmann ...more
Jul 11, 2013 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2013
This really is a brilliant biography of one of my favourite cities. It makes me want to visit over and over again as well as help me to understand how the city "is like it is". Not the sort of book you devour in one sitting; more a book to dip into in between other books. I found that to get the most out of it I would read small parts at a time; there is so much detail and so much nuance. While organised in a broad timeline it does jump backwards and forwards within a century in order to tell th ...more
Informative, well written biography of a great city that has been around for over 2000 years, much of it with great upheavals and sorrows but also, something to love and emulate. Paris is Paris, what can I say?

Read this biography if you feel like a Parisian...
September Dee
Dec 02, 2014 September Dee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everything you wanted to know about Paris. A great book for those who enjoy learning all about a place before you visit it.
Jul 09, 2009 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The other reviews are pretty dead on - very thorough, and I loved the discussion about the "sites of memory" in the intro and throughout the book (not that it's a novel subject, but I find that just knowing which places are identified by these terms - and who identifies them - reveals a lot about a place's history). The maps could've been better and should've been interspersed with the writing, and a lot of pictures had no captions. It's a LOT of information at once, and, as others have pointed ...more
Evan Snyder
Read this for my summer history class about the history of Paris. This tells you EVERYTHING you could possibly want to know about this history of the city, sometimes in exhausting detail. Some of that level of detail I could have done without. A bit slow and tedious reading at times, but overall interesting. Good for a class, but I wouldn't recommend picking it up on your own if you want a little context for your trip to Paris. Get Rick Steves for that (haven't read his Paris book, but I enjoyed ...more
Oct 15, 2012 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very long, somewhat exhausting, scholarly but almost always entertaining read. The chronological narrative is leavened by boxes on topics that are useful detours on subjects ranging from the Louvre to Josephine Baker. A fine book from which I learned a lot that will enhance my appreciation and understanding of Paris. But maybe too long for most casual readers, and I could have done with less detail on the early years and more on the 19th and 20th centuries.
Jan 07, 2013 Sidanarchion rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent incite into the revolutionary power of the urban Parisian zeitgeist. Jones' dictations about the vibrant relationship of Paris versus the French nation as a cultural indicator and national paramount are fascinating and revaltory towards the complex political and cultural beast that is France. A must read for any Revolutionaries seeking to comprehend their history, as well as those reverent Francophiles seeking to swim in Parisian lore.
Mike Clinton
Jun 16, 2013 Mike Clinton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a straightforward historical narrative of the development of Paris since the earliest years of its habitation, written in an engaging style and supplemented with several additional 2-3 page subtopics per chapter that provide additional color and detail about an aspect of Parisian life and history relevant to that chapter's focus. It made an excellent companion to Graham Robb's more idiosyncratic "Parisans: An Adventure History of Paris."
Jan 15, 2011 Lynda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Recommended to Lynda by:
This is not a light read. You have to want to know everything there is to know about Paris. I have to wonder how easy it would have been to read if I had never been to Paris and didn't know much about the city.

Despite all of this I liked the book. It was interesting and filled with a lot of minutia that I did not know. Parts of the book are engrossing, but it is mainly a dry read.

Recommended for people who love travel and history.
Aug 15, 2007 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good, overall review. It gets a little biblical sometimes, in its tendency to cram people and events chronologically into sections. (And then so and so begot whatshisface, who did this and that, and then begot her, who slept with her father, who became King of France, and so they spaketh...)

But, you know, the Bible is a pretty good historical overview, too. So there you go.
Charles Samuels
It seems a lot of people don't link this book very much. Honestly, it isn't very engaging at all. It really put me in the mind of "one damn thing after another." The book still manages to be interesting, but only so long as the reader manages to stay interested, through his own means, in the topic. Definitely NOT a good "first book" in approaching Paris and its history.
Jan 15, 2009 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thorough history of Paris as a unique entity, not seen particularly as the capital of France. It skips around a bit chronologically, which can be confusing given how dense the book is, but overall it is quite enjoyable to those who already have a basic understanding of Parisian history.
Upon finishing it I must say that I loved it... definitely for nerds, though.
Lady Knight
Interesting look at Paris' history. Very detailed, and often I wanted to see the bigger picture of what was going on in France at the time, but the book stuck to its mission of only presenting Paris' attributes to history. Well done and worth the effort to read if you've ever been struck by the romance and culture of Paris.
Kekuni Minton
Somehow this book never caught fire. The details are there, but not the excitement, the smell, the feel of the prominent players, the revolution. It is more interested in the grid map, walls, architects and housing developments.
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