Stephane Kirkland - Paris Reborn

Review :

A focused story of a key period in Paris' history, Paris Reborn ties together three aspects of the Second Empire. It's an equal exploration of the Parisian aspects of Napoléon III's reign; of Haussman's rise and fall, and of the urban projects that changed Paris during their administration. While centered on Haussman, the book is clear that he was not the visionary behind the transformation - it was Napoléon III who began making specific plans as soon as he came to power. Instead, Haussman was an administrator, lobbyist, and cheerleader for the disruptive changes his patron wanted. The book is not extensively a deep exploration of the geography of the changes - they are explored, but design and architecture is not the prime focus, Instead, what Kirkland does best is explore the social efforts and effects that came with the transformation of Paris - both for the key players and politicians, and for the rest of the citizenry. He draws out many intriguing themes - such as the tension between the harmonious, livable city that resulted from the projects, and the authoritarian process that the changes required. Quick-moving and very readable, the book is definitely bent towards a popular audience, and yet is still able to explore some rather thought-provoking themes. Interesting for the history of Paris and the Second Empire, of course, but also a worthy meditation on visionary government.

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