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Paris from the Ground Up

Paris from the Ground Up

James H. S. McGregor

ISBN 9780674057388

Publication date: 11/30/2010

Paris is the most personal of cities. There is a Paris for the medievalist, and another for the modernist—a Paris for expatriates, philosophers, artists, romantics, and revolutionaries of every stripe. James H. S. McGregor brings these multiple perspectives into focus throughout this concise, unique history of the City of Light.

His panorama begins with an ancient Gallic fortress on the Seine, burned to the ground by its own defenders in a vain effort to starve out Caesar’s legions. After ninth-century raids by the Vikings ended, Parisians expanded the walls of their tiny sanctuary on the Ile de la Cité, turning the river’s right bank into a thriving commercial district and the Rive Gauche into a college town. Gothic spires expressed a taste for architectural novelty, matched only by the palaces and pleasure gardens of successive monarchs whose ingenuity made Paris the epitome of everything French. The fires of Revolution threatened all that had come before, but Baron Haussmann saw opportunity in the wreckage. No planned city in the world is more famous than his.

Paris from the Ground Up allows readers to trace the city’s evolution in its architecture and art—from the Roman arena to the Musée d’Orsay, from the Louvre’s defensive foundations to I. M. Pei’s transparent pyramids. Color maps, along with identifying illustrations, make the city accessible to visitors by foot, Metro, or riverboat.


  • [A] definitive portrait of Paris. Combining chronological history with a cultural exploration of all things architectural, artistic and practical, this volume is a popular record that could serve as a comprehensive textbook for City of Lights 101. Crafted with fluency and fluidity, McGregor can be overwhelming in his level of detail; great churches, museums and the artists responsible for them, from Gaul to DeGaulle, are all examined in extreme close-up. To his credit, McGregor acknowledges that the "human history of the place that became Paris is exceedingly long," and keeps it lively with public bath tours, the secrets of aqueducts and central heating, tales of martyrs from St. Denis to Joan of Arc, and unending cathedral construction (emphasizing Notre Dame); the Sorbonne, marketplace evolution and the great plague all play their part. The Louvre is explored meticulously in many permutations, as are the sewers and even the language. McGregor makes a convincing case that Paris, like Athens and Rome, is a city "that combined political power and cultural preeminence...the only conceivable place to succeed."

    —Publishers Weekly (starred review)


  • James H. S. McGregor is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 5-3/4 x 9 inches
  • Belknap Press

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