Paris Reborn -- Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City by Stephane Kirkland, Picador '14 paperback. $18, 327 pages, ASIN #1250042682. Index, endnotes, footnotes, grouping of b&w and
color or glossy images.
History Wire seems to be awash with histories of Paris this year; not that we're complaining, you understand -- we'd welcome double the number we've received. Can't get enough of how that iconic city came to be. Two notable volumes that came over our transom are How Paris Became Paris by Joan de Jean and Edward Rutherfurd's doorstop volume, entitled simply Paris.
Those two combined with Paris Reborn have one curious theme that binds them together. They all have in common that they're depicting the era in which a primitive Paris evolved into a modern city, not because of military conflict but as a result of major innovations in such domestic areas as transportation, architecture, street construction, art, public health, commerce, and governance, among others. And yet, curiously, the eras they're claiming as transformative are very different one from the other.
The transformative era of de Jean's book is largely the 1600s and 1700s, especially the reigns of King Louis XIV, the iconic Sun King; and Louis XV. Rutherfurd's book is encyclopedic in scope, but its evolution of Paris takes place over a longer period. And Stephane Kirkland's "Paris Reborn" took place over a mere generation in the last half of the 19th century. Also, factually, the authors' takes vary as well. So take each with a grain of salt, I suppose.
The back cover encapsulates Kirkland's thesis:
"Traditionally known as a dirty, congested, and dangerous city, Paris was transformed in an extraordinary period from 1848 to 1870, when the government launched a huge campaign to build streets, squares, parks, churches, and public buildings. The Louvre Palace was expanded, Notre-Dame Cathedral was restored, and the masterpiece of the Second Empire, the Opera Garnier, was built. A very large part of what we see when we visit Paris today originates from this short span of 22 years."
Author Stephane Kirkland holds advanced degrees in architecture and art history and has worked as an architect and consultant. He shares his time between Brooklyn and Paris.
Churchill's Secret War -- The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee, BasicBooks '11 paperback. $16.99, 332 pages, ASIN #0465002013. Index, notes, bibliography, small grouping of b&w maps, otherwise unillustrated.
Author Madhusree Mukerjee has researched Winston Churchill's "questionable decisions and destructive actions that led to the death of some 3 millikon Indians during WWII." Mukerjee sheds light on what he considers the avoidable devastation that was justified as a means to defeat the Axis powers and maintain colonial control over India.
"Due to myriad factors associated with the UK's -- and Churchill's -- wartime aspirations, adequate provisions were withheld from India in the summer and fall of 1943. While all of the contributing forces cannot be identified, Mukerjee asserts three main explanations for the UK's inaction:"
*Churchill had an aversion to austerity when it came to his people, so he did not want to impose restraints on the quantity and variety of food available.
*Churchill was committed to maintaining a stockpile of food for the Balkans, whom the UK intended to liberate, "so shiploads of wheat from Australia passed by famine-stricken India en route for storage."
*Ego. "Churchill wanted to avoid the embarassment of admitting to American officials that he controlled enough resources, in terms of ships and grains, to relieve a colony imperiled by hunger."
"Bottom Line: Some three million people died in a man-made famine."
Author Madhusree Mukerjee won a Guggenheim fellowship to write her previous book, The Land of Naked People, and lives near Frankfurt, Germany.
Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters -- An Eccentric Englishwoman and her Lost Kingdom by Philip Eade, Picador '14, $30, 362 pages, ASIN #1250045894..
From the dust jacket:
"Sylvia Brooke was one of the more exotic and outrageous figures of the 20th century. Otherwise known as the Ranee of Sarawak, she was the wife of Sir Vyner Brooke, the last White Rajah, whose family had ruled the jungle kingdom of Sarawak on Borneo for three generations. They had their own flag, revenue, postage stamps, and money, as well as the power of life and death over their subjects -- Malays, Chinese, and headhunting Dyak tribesmen.
"The regime of the White Rajahs was long romanticized, but by the 1930s, their power and prestige were crumbling. At the center of Sarawak's decadence was Sylvia, author of 11 books, mother to three daughters, and an extravagantly dressed socialite whose behavior often offended and usually defied social convention.
"Sylvia did her best to manipulate the line of succession in favor of her daughters, but by 1946 , Japan had invaded Sarawak, sending Sylvia and her husband into exile, ending one of the more unusual chapters of British colonial rule."
Author Philip Eade graduated from Bristol University and was briefly a criminal lawyer before turning to journalism. He has authored a biography of Prince Philip and one forthcoming on Evelyn Waugh. He lives in London and the Welsh Marches.