Mark's Reviews > Is Paris Burning?

Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins
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's review
Jan 28, 2008

liked it
Recommended for: history buffs, travelers
Read in April, 2008

I picked this book on recommendations from (the best online community for travelers). Candy & I went to Paris in March and I wanted to read something that was set there, had lots of references to places we'd see, and was fun to read. After giving up on a mystery novel set in Paris (bleh), I went with this nonfiction account of the liberation of the city in WW2.

The real-life story is amazing, starting with the actions of the French resistance in the days leading up the liberation, especially the tensions between Gaullist and Communist factions within that resistance. This was history I didn't know beforehand, and I found it fascinating. Also fascinating were the unbelievable ambition (arrogance, really) and bold moves of Charles De Gaulle himself. The other centerpiece of the story is the German General hand-picked to ruthlessly defend the city, destroying it if necessary or in retaliation. That this loyal soldier risked his own family to reinterpret his orders and spare Paris destruction was amazing.

Sure enough, the book is positively dripping with geographic and architectural references throughout the city. I read part of it before we got there, and it resonated even stronger after I'd visited those locations and continued to read the book.

I only gave it three stars because I stalled out near the end. The authors are an American and French newspaper reporters, and the last third bogs down as they feel compelled to tell the individual stories of many, many people. They're all interesting, the individual reunions among French families, as well as the personal tragedies that happen even while the city is being liberated. I thought it was just too much, however. At this point, it did feel more like a long newspaper article than a book, and the narrative got a little lost.

It's worth noting that this was written in 1965, only twenty years after the events took place. The authors were able to interview so many people who witnessed these events firsthand, from individual Parisians and GIs to Eisenhower, De Gaulle, and even the German general Von Choltitz himself. I understand the movie made from this book is pretty good, and I might check that out sometime.

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