REVIEW: City of Light, Rupert Christiansen

Friday, 5 April 2019

In 1853, French emperor Louis Napoleon inaugurated a vast and ambitious program of public works in Paris, directed by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the prefect of the Seine. Haussmann transformed the old medieval city of squalid slums and disease-ridden alleyways into a "City of Light" characterized by wide boulevards, apartment blocks, parks, squares and public monuments, new rail stations and department stores, and a new system of public sanitation. City of Light charts this fifteen-year project of urban renewal which--despite the interruptions of war, revolution, corruption, and bankruptcy--set a template for nineteenth and early twentieth-century urban planning and created the enduring landscape of modern Paris now so famous around the globe.

If I am being honest, before reading this book, I had never before considered the planning that had gone into the construction of Paris as we know it today; it had never even crossed my mind. But it should have done. The French capital is known throughout the world for its striking layout - I can recall the aerial view of the city if I close my eyes and I haven’t seen an image of it in… who even knows how long - and it is clear, even after the slightest moment of examination, the human precision that went into creating it. Although Rupert Christiansen brings a rather odd Anglo-centric tinge to a book that should have been solely focussed on France, City of Light brings a rich amount of detail to each part of Paris’ infrastructure: the sewer systems, the roads, the architecture. The city is truly a marvel and one that will pattern human’s relationship with it for many years to come.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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