Paris: Capital of the World

Already known for his incisive books on eighteenth-century France and the French Revolution, Higonnet will now be celebrated as the author of a beautifully produced work on the Paris of a century ago. He starts by making a distinction between myths and phantasmagoria. Myths are "life stories" that societies "elaborate to explain to themselves the rise and sometimes the fall of their collective enterprise." Phantasmagorias, in contrast, deform and drastically simplify the past. As Higonnet sees it, some of Paris' myths also ended as phantasmagorias. The myths include Paris' reputation as the capital of individualism, revolution, crime, science, alienation, pleasure, and art. There are also chapters on negative myths of "La Parisienne," urbanism, Parisian opera, the twentieth-century surrealists, and the visions of Balzac, Baudelaire and Zola. Paris' fall from grace after 1940 notwithstanding, Higonnet concludes that the city is "still unique ... a capital of the civilizing spirit." All Francophiles will be enriched by this book and grateful to both the author and his perfect translator. A rich and intelligent tour of Paris by an erudite guide with an acerbic, playful mind and a passionate heart.

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