Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How Paris Became Paris

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern CityHow Paris Became Paris, Joan De Jean's history of the transformation of Paris into a modern city, is a compelling, fascinating read.  She focuses on the changes that took place in Paris during the 17th century, a time when the city's architecture, monuments, and physical layout were developing into what we see now in contemporary Paris.  She also discusses the evolution of style and fashion--la mode--during this period, and with it the emergence of new types, often people who could use fashion to disguise their low birth to gain social position:  "La Parisienne," the coquette, and the "aventuriers."  She weaves all these elements into a broad argument that persuades the reader that modern Paris owes much of its identity to the changes in material culture that occurred in the seventeenth century.

The book is clearly grounded in primary documents and archival research, giving it historiographic authority, but it never reads like a dry academic monograph.  Dr Jean has accomplished a very difficult feat:  she has written a fascinating scholarly history that a non-scholar can read easily and profitably.

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