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Paris, Capital of Europe: From the Revolution to the Belle Epoque

Johannes Willms, translated by Eviline L. Kanes
Paris, Capital of Europe: From the Revolution to the Belle Epoque
ISBN: 978-08419-1246-5
2002/436 pages
Distributed for Holmes & Meier Publishers

"An absorbing and intimate history of the City of Lights ... The city, as Willms presents it, becomes a living, breathing, construction, reflecting the foibles, fantasies, and desires of its citizens ... This is a work that will delight the specialist and the tourist alike."—Kirkus Reviews

"Paris makes engrossing reading. I know of no other work that offers such an inclusive, yet nuanced, treatment of modern Parisian history.... Paris will appeal to academic specialists in French and modern European history and to general readers with an interest in good historical narratives. I can also well imagine that this book will become standard reading for Americans contemplating a trip to Paris."—David C. Large

"Like the ship on the city's coat of arms, Johannes Willms's Paris, with its cargo of local colors, clamors, odors and insurrections, sails through a century on a flood of anecdotes and never becomes becalmed. This is the rich and readable history of a kaleidoscopic capital."—Eugen Weber

"This is a serious, thorough and stimulating survey that treads both familiar and unfamiliar terrain. Anyone who loves Paris can learn something from it."—Rosamond Bernier


A History Book Club Alternate Selection

Few understand or appreciate the evolutionary process that transformed Paris from the capital of France into the capital of Europe. Paris: From the Revolution to the Belle Epoque is the lively, provocative, meticulously researched story of that remarkable transformation.

Johannes Willms, a historian and journalist, covers the years from the brink of upheaval on the eve of the Revolution to the First World War and masterfully weaves various social, political, artistic and economic threads into a vivid tapestry, allowing the general reader, as well as the scholar, the rare opportunity to grasp the city in Proustian detail.

One reads not only of the Terror and the commune, for instance, but also of street life and repression, social customs, Napoleonic architecture, the growth of trade and commerce, work and wages, health and hygiene, morality, class struggles, crime, and of course art and entertainment. Willms culls his information from a wide range of sources: scholarly histories in several languages, municipal archives, novels, and even guidebooks.

This careful and eclectic approach makes Paris a fascinating authoritative social history of the city whose reign as the capital of Europe may have ended long ago, but which, true to its motto—fluctuat, nec mergitur (it is tossed by the waves but does not sink)— remains redoubtable.


Johannes Willms has written widely on social and political history; his publications include Nationalism Without Nation: German History, 1789-1914. He is senior editor of culture and the arts at Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the largest newspapers in Germany.