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Paris in the Fifties [Paperback]

Stanley Karnow
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Jan 1999
In July 1947, fresh out of college and long before he would win the Pulitzer Prize and become known as one of America's finest historians, Stanley Karnow boarded a freighter bound for France, planning to stay for the summer. He stayed for ten years, first as a student and later as a correspondent for Time magazine. By the time he left, Karnow knew Paris so intimately that his French colleagues dubbed him "le plus parisien des Américains" --the most Parisian American.

Now, Karnow returns to the France of his youth, perceptively and wittily illuminating a time and place like none other. Karnow came to France at a time when the French were striving to return to the life they had enjoyed before the devastation of World War II. Yet even during food shortages, political upheavals, and the struggle to come to terms with a world in which France was no longer the mighty power it had been, Paris remained a city of style, passion, and romance.

Paris in the Fifties transports us to Latin Quarter cafés and basement jazz clubs, to unheated apartments and glorious ballrooms. We meet such prominent political figures as Charles de Gaulle and Pierre Mendès-France, as well as Communist hacks and the demagogic tax rebel Pierre Poujade. We get to know illustrious intellectuals, among them Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and André Malraux, and visit the glittering salons where aristocrats with exquisite manners mingled with trendy novelists, poets, critics, artists, composers, playwrights, and actors. We meet Christian Dior, who taught Karnow the secrets of haute couture, and Prince Curnonsky, France's leading gourmet, who taught the young reporter to appreciate the complexities of haute cuisine. Karnow takes us to marathon murder trials in musty courtrooms, accompanies a group of tipsy wine connoisseurs on a tour of the Beaujolais vineyards, and recalls the famous automobile race at Le Mans when a catastrophic accident killed more than eighty spectators. Back in Paris, Karnow hung out with visiting celebrities like Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, and Audrey Hepburn, and in Paris in the Fifties we meet them too.

A veteran reporter and historian, Karnow has written a vivid and delightful history of a charmed decade in the greatest city in the world.


Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA Inc (26 Jan 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812931378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812931372
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 528,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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First Sentence
Thousands of young Americans were flocking to Europe after World War II, and I joined the throng. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I simply love it! 12 May 2013
By helen
Format:Paperback
This is easily the best book I've read for some time (and I read a lot!) Brilliantly told, fascinating insights, atmospheric, intelligent, incisive, interculturally astute - no praise can do it justice. I'm devastated that Stanley Karnow died this January - and I'm discovering this brilliant book only now, in May 2013. But if you're interested in Paris, French culture, post-war journalism, the Fifties - read this book, it is excellent!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A double dose of nostalgia: 6 April 2011
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
...of time and place. Paris has been called, with much justification, the world's capital of nostalgia... and if one has been fortunate to have seen it when one was young and in love, well... And then it was the `50's, for some of us of a certain age, a decade that evokes nostalgia if you airbrush out the threat of nuclear annihilation, McCarthyism, the Korean War, the possibility of being stricken with polio at the beginning of the decade...

I first came by Stanley Karnow by reading his quintessential book on the American war in Vietnam Vietnam: A History, shortly after it was published in 1984... just barely enough time after the war to provide some perspective. Rightly, he won the Pulitzer Prize for it. Scholarly and authoritative, Karnow cut through so many of the myths surrounding the war in ways that I had not seen done before by a "mainstream" journalist. Paris in the Fifties was published in 1997, and given his literary pedigree, and my Francophile nature, it was an essential read.

And there is much to like if you are willing to just sit back and enjoy the times. Like many Americans of the post Second World War era, who followed their predecessors after the First World War, Karnow explained how they flocked to Paris to live in the excitement of the "city of light," in often limited financial circumstances. This book is a collection of 21 vignettes, based on his dispatches to Time Magazine. However, as he says in the Preface, the stories appear in "greatly revised form," so for me, the most fascinating part would have been the how and the why of the revisions, which, of course, you're not offered.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why are the French the way they are today? Read background. 10 Nov 1998
By jglynn@mathware.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Chapter 15 on the youth of France is worth the price of the book alone. Times were hard in the 1950s and Karnow knew it and wrote about it. "What do we want? A decent life and I don't know how to attain it", says a 27 year old worker whose wife also works and together have a very limited life. What do the French think about food, work, wine, sex, intellectuals, language, fashion, Coca Cola? It is all here in this delightful book and it is not what Americans think. Yes, it is a report from a foreign country.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paris Since '45 9 July 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. While I won't go over the top and give it a five-star rating, I found it a fascinating look at both French culture and Europe immediately after WWII. The title is a bit misleading - the stories Karnow has to tell are not Paris-specific ans much as they are France-specific. The cultural landmarks one might expect - painters, writers, musicians,filmmakers - expats and natives alike - modernists who filled up city up after the war, during the '50's are notoriously absent, despite the interview-appearances of John Huston, Audrey Hepburn and Ernest Hemingway.
Karnow was a stringer for Life Magazine during the '50's and was widely dispatched during his tenure. Rather than a history specifically about the city and its culture during the Eisenhower-era, this book is an omnibus of cultural information - the history of the guillotine, café culture, visits with the crown-princes and princesses of Hollywood, and the beginnings of Algerian resistance to French rule.
Karnow's done a fine - and sometimes gripping - job of creating a *petit-histoire* keyhole for us to view his Parisian decade through. While it didn't necessarily cover the bases I had hoped for - (e.g. George Orwell's 'Down and Out in Paris and London')- it filled in a lot of the gaps that lead to the student uprisings in 1968. This book may or may not be for the French-cultural novitiate or for those seeking reprisals of Goddard films, but Karnow's account of Paris - his personal narrative - freights its own reward.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent recounting of France (not just Paris) in the 50s 1 Sep 2003
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The title of this excellent book is a misnomer. Although there is a great deal about Paris, the book as a whole rambles over much of France and even the Mediterranean. Beginning in the late 1940s when Karnow first went to Paris on the GI Bill to study and through much of the 1950s when he served with TIME in their Paris office Karnow lived in Paris. This book is a distillation of his memories and notes he kept from that period. Karnow, however, gives himself free rein to range over a host of topics, sometimes delving into French history, if it helps illuminate his topic. The result is a very personal view of France in the fifties. There is a great deal he doesn't discuss, such as French cinema and art in the decade. He writes of some of the literary figures, but not with any especial emphasis.
The range of topics that are covered in the book are not encyclopedic but they are exceptionally varied. He will write about wine, food, crime, famous politicians, infamous politicians, housing, French manners, Algerian patriots, people he knew, and a host of other subjects. Some of the chapters could be anticipated, such as a long chapter on French wine and a tour through the French wine districts. Some are unexpected, like a chapter on a man who was the last in a line of hereditary executioners. There is a good deal of name dropping (folks like Samuel Beckett pop in for brief cameos), but not too much. He writes of people whose names remain famous, like Christian Dior, and of many others, especially colleagues, whose names are not so well known.
One of the best things about the book is that while it may not give you all the facts about Paris and France in the fifties, it definitely gives you a feel for the time itself. It is also fascinating for what it reveals about the politics of the time. Karnow worked for TIME, which espoused a conservative Republican point of view (though more moderate than what would later characterize the late 1950s NATIONAL REVIEW), while Karnow himself was a liberal. In much of his political writing, therefore, one gets a sense of his take on one things on the one hand and the take of his employers, looking over his shoulder, on the other. The book therefore indirectly tells the story of how much of America felt about France during the fifties.
I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested either in the years following the war or in France or Paris in general. It is entertaining and informative at the same time.
I'd like to add that the photograph on the paperback edition of the book (and I supposed on the dust jacket of the hardback) is one of the most remarkable I have ever seen of Paris. A couple somewhere in Paris (the angles make it look to be somewhere east of Montmartre) looks over Paris with Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower off in the distance.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Loved Paris in the Fifties 5 Nov 2006
By Edward H. Wilkinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Having lived in Paris during the late 'fifties, I was immediately attacted to the Karnow book by its title. Upon reading the book, I wasn't disappointed. It was an easy read, partly because of the subject matter and partly because Mr. Karnow is such an excellent writer. The history lesson was great!!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved it! 13 Feb 2006
By A. D. Runcorn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I loved this book! I like reading books that create a lot of mental imagery and that give me a feeling of "being there". This book does both, and is a great little slice of history. I read it because I was yearning to re-read Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" but it was checked out of the library. I stumbled upon this instead and adored every page. Do yourself a favor, and take a read- you'll be hooked!
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