Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann and the Quest to Build a Modern City

Stephane Kirkland, Author
Stephane Kirkland. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-62689-1
Reviewed on: 12/17/2012
Release date: 04/02/2013
The filthy, haphazardly arrayed Paris immortalized in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables gives way to the idealized tree-lined boulevards and planned building projects of the opulent Second French Empire, in urban architecture blogger Kirkland’s debut. Long before Robert Moses set about sculpting New York City, Baron Haussmann—with the blessings of Napoleon III (the Napoleon’s nephew)—transformed Paris from a medieval maze into a modern metropolis. While many of Haussmann’s changes—especially the long, straight, wide boulevards—have come to signify Paris in the popular mind, the metamorphosis was not without its attendant obstacles, including backroom deals, public outcry, and what many deemed prohibitively high costs. The greatest failures, however, were the new public housing developments—Napoleon III’s pet projects were ineffective, and builders rebelled against his vision. Their treatment is also the book’s greatest shortcoming: Kirkland glosses over root causes of lower class unrest and leaves unanswered questions regarding why the public housing didn’t satisfy its residents. Nevertheless, Kirkland is an able navigator of architectural history—vivid descriptions abound, and the evolution of the city’s infrastructure, public spaces, and other amenities is a testament to the oft overlooked reign of Napoleon III. Lovers of the City of Light and urban planners alike will find Kirkland’s survey illuminating. 8-page photo insert. Agent: William Clark, William Clark Associates. (Apr.)
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