Metronome: A History of Paris from the Underground Up (Anglais) Broché – 6 décembre 2013
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Gives an overview - though not much more - of 2000+ years of Paris history. A good introductory read with some quirky facts.
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As for the content, well, this was a huge hit in France, largely because it combines a clever organizing principle (metro-stops as history markers) with a guided chronological tour of French history. I think one of the endorsements talks about how this brings history to people who otherwise would never have cracked a history book, which pretty well sums up both its greatest strength and weakness. That is, the author does a good job of evoking a sense of awe, and like an engaging tour guide, his (historically accurate) account grabs your attention through anecdotes and dramatic flair. But the price you pay for engagement is often a lack of critical distance. On the spectrum between "fun fact" and peer-review academic work, this falls fairly close to the "fun fact" side of things—closer than, say, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong or Graham Robb's The Discovery of France.
As I mentioned earlier, the book suffers from the onslaught of sidebar columns on nearly every page. The layout disrupts the narrative flow, and after a while, begins to feel like laziness on the part of the writer (i.e. "well, I can't figure out how to make all this history stuff fit together, so I'll just throw my notes into a separate column on the side"). I borrowed the French edition from a friend and was shocked by how much more readable (which I realize is of no help if you don't read French) it is, and how much the layout helps the narrative flow. The English version, by comparison, is stilted, not just because of layout, but also because of rather awkward phrasing and the interjection of explanations of French words.
Content-wise, it's still a very good book—just not as good as I had hoped.
Dr. Alan-Clarke Hudson
Chapters in the history of France are told with reference to the subway stations found in the inner core of Paris. For example, the story of the Bastille is told through what the commuter sees at the Bastille metro station (which, incidentally, is not a whole lot because the Bastille was completely destroyed during the French Revolution).
The story of the Louvre are told with reference to the Palais-Royale-Musee du Louvre metro stop.
The chaotic and bloody events of the civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians during the Fourteenth Century while the country was battling the Hundred Years War with England are told at the Chateau de Vicennes metro stop.
Half-way through the book Lorant Deutsch brings the reader barely to 1000 C.E. This should not be surprising. By Western standards, Paris is an ancient city with a rich history. The metro stops described in his book constitute the very core of the city center where the events of Paris’ earliest history took place.
Throughout the book Deutsch will present mini stories on the side of the page. These side stories include, What is on Dogobert’s Tomb? How did Les Halle disappear? Where have all the colleges gone? Who was Nicolas Flamel? These stories are almost more interesting than the main text.
One does not need to be a Francophile to enjoy this book, but this book will make you one.
Good book, history brilliantly told, good translation. What could go wrong? Well, ....
Other customer reviews of this book have complained about the paper on which the text is printed. I dismissed these comments and purchased the book anyway. While the book is highly recommended, these reviewers were correct. The paper the publisher used is cheap, shoddy, and rough.
We are not talking about acid-free paper. I have seen comic books printed on better paper. I have seen newspapers PRINTED SIXTY YEARS AGO in better shape. No exaggeration, the paper used for this book feels like sandpaper. I still give this book five stars for the excellent stories told.
Shame on the publisher, St. Martins Griffin, for disrespecting the reading public by printing such a cheap edition of this book!