In This Review

Seven Ages of Paris
Seven Ages of Paris
By Alistair Horne
Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, 458 pp

Horne has written extensively about France's history, especially its wars, but this book is a story of Paris. Keeping primarily within the confines of political history, he covers nine centuries, from the battle of Bouvines in 1284 to the barricades of 1968. He underscores the tenacity of the medieval French kings as they turned a small, vulnerable town into the capital of a growing, centralizing state. Cardinal Richelieu comes across favorably, whereas Horne's assessment of King Louis xiv (who spent most of his time at Versailles rather than in Paris) is mixed. His distaste for the Revolution is such that he skips it -- even though the Paris of those turbulent, tragic years deserves to be discussed. He prefers to emphasize the city's development under the two Napoleons, contrasting its glitter with the misery of the underclass. But the most moving part of the book is devoted to the years spanning 1870-1940 and 1940-69. The critical French victory at the battle of the Marne in September 1914, the humiliation of Paris in World War II, and above all the great saga of Charles de Gaulle inspire excellent pages. Some of Horne's judgments on modern France are assailable, but his epilogue on the cemetery of Pere Lachaise is a fitting end to this labor of love.