When Gustave Eiffel built his famous tower in Paris for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, he fully expected it to be a temporary monument. It was to outlast the exhibition, but for only twenty years, whereupon it would be demolished. In _Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count_ (Viking), historian Jill Jonnes shows that part of the reason the tower was to be temporary was that it was not universally appreciated. It was an ugly eyesore, the critics claimed, "an inartistic ... scaffolding of crossbars and angled iron." As the foundation was being dug, artists and intellectuals (like composer Charles Gounod and author Guy de Maupassant) signed their names to an angry protest letter which called the structure a "dizzily ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing [all] beneath its barbarous mass." It was a tower "which even commercial America will not have." The tower proved popular, however, and when the twenty year mark rolled around, Eiffel was glad to be using it as a scientific station, and to be able to claim that it was still needed in that role. He had convinced the French military to use it as a radio antenna in 1903 (but had had to pay for the telegraphy unit himself). When World War One came, any controversy about its permanence was over, since it was essential as a viewing tower and communications post. Jonnes's lively and funny book has a history of the building of the tower and its troubled reputation and construction, but is also about the fair for which it was built, an epochal gathering of notables that Jonnes profiles here. It is hard to imagine Paris without its tower, but the other buildings of the exhibition are long gone, as are the exhibitors, and this book is a welcome recreation of the event.
Eiffel had entered the new field of railroad engineering, and was adept at building complicated bridges and aqueducts. His tower (_Tour en Fer de Trois Cents Mètres_) beat out entries including the gigantic replica of a guillotine (the exposition was to celebrate the centennial of the Revolution). The tower was finished on time for the opening of the exposition, but the elevators were not, and for the first three weeks, if you wanted to get to the top, you took the stairs. You could go to the viewing platform, and if you were famous, you could get invited to Eiffel's own aerie apartment, a suite of rooms with settees and a piano (on which the composer Gounod, who had campaigned against the tower, was graciously invited to play). The tower was the anchor for the Paris Exposition, and it is the anchor for Jonnes's book as well. Jonnes has wonderful stories of those who exhibited, performed, or visited the tower and the fair. Among the most famous of the personalities here was Buffalo Bill Cody (or _Guillaume Buffalo_), who started an extremely successful European tour in Paris. He brought real Indians with him, and Frenchmen enjoyed the spectacle of re-enactions of the stagecoach battles that tamed the West, but the Indians enjoyed the spectacles of Paris. When they were taken to the Cirque d'Éte, they were delighted with French clowns parodying their riding and their Indian wars, and laughed so hard at the clown version of their war dance that they shed tears. With Buffalo Bill was his sharpshooter Annie Oakley, who was a sensation with her ability to shoot down glass bubbles tossed into the air or to split a playing card shot edgewise. Also featured here is Thomas Alva Edison, who was there to show off (and to market) his phonograph; Parisian celebrities were delighted with the machine's capacity to capture their voices. He was feted everywhere, and was dismayed by the richness of the eight or eighteen course dinners. The bad boy of publishing, James Gordon Bennett is here, running the _New York Herald_ from a distance and also founding a Paris edition which touted the exposition; it survives as _The International Herald-Tribune_. Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin are on the fringes as impoverished artists hoping for their big break, a break that the exposition did not provide.
Jonnes takes us on a tour of the fair, where visitors could see Arab orchestras, gigantic engines, and Javanese dancing girls, and could tour the grounds by miniature railroad or by authentic rickshaws. They could view the world's largest oaken wine cask (200,000 bottles worth), or a shepherd using the stilts traditional to his region for getting quickly to far-flung herds. They might fantasize about buying the Eiffel Tower model on display encrusted with 40,000 diamonds. For souvenirs, they did buy lamps, umbrellas, chocolate, and handkerchiefs depicting the tower, just as tourists still do. Jonnes's book swings nicely between engineering, celebrity portraits, and social history, and is a fine resource for all of us who could not make it to the Exposition Universelle ourselves.