Paris from the Ground Up

James H. S. McGregor, Author
James H. S. McGregor, Author Belknap Press $29.95 (327p) ISBN 978-0-674-03316-0
Reviewed on: 03/30/2009
Release date: 04/01/2009
Paperback - 327 pages - 978-0-674-05738-8
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McGregor, the University of Georgia's comparative literature department co-head, adds to his city history series (Rome: From the Ground Up) with this definitive portrait of Paris. Combining chronological history with a cultural exploration of all things architectural, artistic and practical, this volume is a popular record that could serve as a comprehensive textbook for City of Lights 101. Crafted with fluency and fluidity, McGregor can be overwhelming in his level of detail; great churches, museums and the artists responsible for them, from Gaul to DeGaulle, are all examined in extreme close-up. To his credit, McGregor acknowledges that the ""human history of the place that became Paris is exceedingly long,"" and keeps it lively with public bath tours, the secrets of aqueducts and central heating, tales of martyrs from St. Denis to Joan of Arc, and unending cathedral construction (emphasizing Notre Dame); the Sorbonne, marketplace evolution and the great plague all play their part. The Louvre is explored meticulously in many permutations, as are the sewers and even the language. McGregor makes a convincing case that Paris, like Athens and Rome, is a city ""that combined political power and cultural preeminence... the only conceivable place to succeed."" 105 color illustrations, 30 halftones, 10 maps.
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