"The Seven Ages of Paris"

Well, while riding in the metro and reading through Alistair Horne’s 2002 “Seven Ages of Paris”, it was difficult not to wince at his vivid use of language to describe Paris’ lively and borderline ‘barbaric’ past. Dividing Paris into seven different epochs, he paints an engaging, well researched portrait of an intriguing, history rich city which this blogger highly recommends! Well, I have actually just completed reading the first ‘age’ covering 1180 to 1314 but believe it will be fascinating going through the remainder. So far , so good – and gory. The politics, international relations and domestic politics of Paris in her ‘first age’ are portrayed in quite vivid, fast paced and striking detail – and so far, few paragraphs epitomise the author’s gory, bloody, vivid writing as his description of the fate of lovers of Phillipe ‘le bel’s amorous daughters at the turn of the fourteenth century – whose final moments included being disemboweled, skinned and decapitated in public to an excited Parisian crowd ‘screaming itself hoarse’ in heady glee at the swift, cruel hand of Philippe le bel’s infamous hand of justice. It’s a terrific read.

In 2002, Christopher Caldwell of the New York Times, in “Fun Cité” had this to say about the book:

“Alistair Horne is one of those British historians with a preference for straight-ahead narrative and a fondness for gossip, bloodshed and the bizarre. His ”Seven Ages of Paris” is a dense but consistently bewitching history that runs from the city’s Roman founding to the riots of 1968. Horne enjoys prizing open the Baedeker city (romantic, elegant) to show us the Balzacian one (brutal, seedy) behind it. Often, the tourist Paris is the underworld Paris. In 1964 a woman leapt from the Eiffel Tower, bounced off the roof of a parked car and survived. In 1874 a railway tunnel under Père Lachaise cemetery collapsed, showering corpses onto the tracks. In 1589, at the Château de St.-Cloud, near the present Bois de Boulogne, Henri III (”one of France’s more bizarre monarchs, on account of his effeminacy and occasional practice of appearing at official ceremonies in drag”) was stabbed to death while sitting on the toilet by a deranged monk. Horne does not confuse the history of Paris with the history of France. But he renders France unusually vivid by focusing on the one corner of it that millions of foreigners have toured or lived in or dreamed about.”

Great book!