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This is a most singular work of science fiction indeed. Like many of the futuristic technological marvels Jules Verne described, this novel lay in obscurity, waiting for someone to come along and discover it. That someone was Verne's great-grandson, who in 1989 found the manuscript in an old safe that was thought to be empty. While I bought this book as soon as it was published, I have only now compelled myself to read it. I could not help but wonder if Verne would want this novel published now in its current form, especially given the fact it was one of his earliest writings, so I held off in respect to the founding father of science fiction. Having now read the novel, I must say it differs significantly from the other Verne novels I have read, expressing a maudlin and tragically pessimistic vision for the future of modern society. At the same time, its defense of the classics, arts and literature, and individual freedom is quite moving.
In one of the richest ironies in the history of literature, Verne's editor rejected the manuscript of Paris in the Twentieth Century because, in his own words, "No one today will believe your prophecy." As with so many of Verne's visionary ideas, however, fiction has now become fact. Among the wild ideas included in these pages are fax machines, horse-less carriages, a subway system, computers, calculators, and other modern luxuries we take for granted now. A much longer list could be produced, but I would contend that too much of the reaction to this "lost" novel has directed itself to Verne's prophecies fulfilled. Certainly, the basis of Verne's future society is built on technological accomplishment, but Paris in the Twentieth Century is a social commentary that rivals in its unnerving implications famous dystopian novels such as George Orwell's 1984.
Verne's vision of Paris in 1960 is a troubling one indeed; the wonders of technology have worked miracles on earth, yet humanity's savior has proceeded to become its curse. It's an action-oriented society, one run with great economy and efficiency. War has been made extinct because, once war progressed to the point that machines and not men were fighting each other, the whole thing seemed ridiculous. Life itself has become scientific, and in the process the society has given up its own humanity. There is no place for an idealistic dreamer such as Michel Dufrenoy in this world where the arts and literature have been completely forgotten; popular literature now consists of books such as The Lubrication of Driveshafts. Popular music is so un-melodic that it would make even John Cage cringe. Still, young Michel does try to become a modern man, taking a job (his first of many) in his guardian's bank. He finds friends in a long-lost uncle, one of his co-workers, his former teacher, and the lovely grand-daughter of the latter. Even still, his life of quiet desperation grows more and more disheartening and threatens to make him a martyr for the forgotten cause of the arts.
Verne's warnings over the possible dangers of the technology he is famous for espousing makes for an intriguing read. Through Michel, Verne gives the reader a crash course on the history of French literature and thought as well as a primer of sorts on musical history. Some critics say the characters of this novel are ephemeral, but I found them all quite compelling, especially the main character Michel. The only real issue I have with the book is the fact that Verne basically left matters unresolved; while this is indeed effective in terms of Michel, I yearned to know the ultimate fates of the extraordinary friends he had acquired. While there are a few comical bits in this book, Paris in the Twentieth Century is a somber, very serious book warning of the possible unintended consequences of modernization. It shows Verne as a true visionary as well as a social critic and devoted lover of literature. This book is so rooted in the French ideals of Verne's time that those who, like me, are not overly familiar with the context in which Verne was writing may not appreciate and understand all of the text's nuances, but its prophetic warnings are even more timely now than they were in 1863.
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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2008
This is a highly significant novel because of its discovery nearly a century after the author's death by his great-grandson. It makes very accurate technological predictions based by extrapolation on developments up to the 1860s. However, in other fields, the predictions are very much less accurate, for example in this reality most of the major states (France, England, Russia and Italy are mentioned, but not Prussia/Germany) have disarmed due to "perfection of engines of warfare" and have done away with the armed forces and the whole military state, implying that there has been world peace throughout the 20th century. Interestingly, the only weapons mentioned are swords and sabres, whereas in reality this was written only a few years before the mass shootings and shellings of the Franco-Prussian war and the siege of Paris. Another difference is that British landowners have been buying up large tracts of land in France to the extent that the French fear for the very ownership of their own country.

The society depicted here, while based on accurately predicted technology, goes to the extreme of having science and technology completely vanquish literature and the arts in a way that mercifully has not happened in reality, such that, for example, Victor Hugo is totally unheard of in the Paris of 1960.

These interesting facets aside, there is little room left for actual plot in a novel of 200 pages printed in a large and well-spaced font (with a few line drawings), and the actual story is mediocre, the characters flat and one-dimensional, though the ending is sad and poignant.

Overall, this book is really for Verne completists, or those with an interest in predictive fiction, or lost novel curiosities. Those new to Verne should definitely first read one of his famous classics.
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on 14 October 2003
Michel Dufrenoy is a man born out of time. Possessing the soul of an artist, he lives in a time when the artist is despised, and the industrialist is utterly triumphant. Where can Michel go to fit in? What place can an artist find in the Paris of 1960?
Jules Verne wrote this short book in 1863, but his publisher rejected it as unrealistic. In many ways, what Verne wrote was prescient. He wrote about electric lights, asphalt streets and motorcars, but he went far beyond that. He foresaw the future degradation of art ("I've even heard of a certain Courbet, at one of his last exhibitions, showed himself, face to the wall, in the performance of one of the most hygienic but least elegant actions of life!"), and the deconstruction of history in mass entertainment ("...History must be raped if she is to bear a child. And she was made to bear any number, who themselves bore no resemblance to their mother!")
This book is highly polemical in nature. Verne makes quite clear his distaste for capitalism and its concomitant mindset. Also, this story offers no great insight, but merely warns. I found the story fascinating for its seeming precognition, but did not find the story particularly entertaining. Therefore, I give this book a qualified recommendation--read this book as an interesting historical document, but not as an entertaining story.
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on 24 January 2014
Whilst perusing the bookstore a week ago I came across a copy of this for a few bucks and couldn't help but pick it up. In the end, not sure it was worth it.

The summary is pretty much what you'd expect. Casting his mind forward 100 years Verne tells us what life will be like in 1960. In many ways he's not too far off the mark. His world isn't a total apocalyptic mess but it's not a particularly fun or artistic place either.

On the positive side, as always with Verne you have to admire his attention to details and his powers of prognostication. He does not insist on casting a rosy light on the future and describes it in wonderful and vibrant prose.

The negative side, however, is that all this vibrant detail can sometimes take a degree in French literature to untangle. He does, at times, go into a wealth of detail that only a native Parisian could properly appreciate. I bought this book with the intention of passing it along to the kids in the house but there's just too much of a Gordian knot in this text to hold their attention. This Verne is not focused so much on the technology of the future as he is the society of the future. It's an interesting and insightful view but it's a bit much to swallow.

In summary, not what I would have hoped for. This book has a lot to say for certain but it's just too tangled up with intimate details that just confuse the already rather brief plotline. One can understand why it may have remained unpublished for so long as a work of popular literature.
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on 19 November 2013
The manuscript for this book was left to Jules Verne's safe for almost 100 years after publishers he used refused to publish this novel. For a good reason, this book is definitely not among the 50 or so best of Verne. Either the writing or translation for this novel, compared to other Verne writings, is mediocre. And even if it is advertised that the book contains visions of Paris 100 years later many of these have gone quite differently. A few gems here and there make the general gloom of writing more worth reading. Hoewever, this is not a book about Verne's technological visions, but a book about young man's failure in search of his life, happening is strangely unlikely world.

According to other Verne book I bought from Amazon and I'm reading for the moment, the translations of Verne's books are often quite poor. I think you should rather read something like Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (Oxford World's Classics) which is both written and translated ambitiously and provides even today's reader lots of adventures and enjoyment!
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on 16 March 2016
As far as I know, this is the only existing English translation of the novel. I bought it for my thesis about the history of socio-political science fiction. This is the one, folks, it might not be that well-known but it is the foundation work of all Western urban fantasy, dystopian fiction, and cyberpunk fiction. An absolute must-read. It's as entertaining as it is terrifying, because Verne foresaw a many of the negative aspects of today's culture.
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on 27 October 2013
I loved it...
It's not really in the Jules Verne style but it's great non the less...
A great book.
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on 28 September 2003
The story of Michel Dufrenoy, a poet, in 1960s. A sad story though. This book is not as extraordinary as Verne's other novels like 'Journey to the Centre of The Earth' and '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'. However, you can still read it in one day (as I did). You will again be amazed with the prophecies of Verne. I sometimes think, whether he visited our time with a time machine or not. The chapter about the bookseller who has not heard about Victor Hugo is a bit sad, however Verne gives you a bit of hope soon afterwards by taking Michel to the Royal Library to meet his uncle... Verne is talking about almost everything of the twentieth century in the book; music, politics, technology, architecture, literature, etc. I quite enjoyed reading this book, however it was not exactly what I was expecting from Jules Verne.
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on 13 October 2014
an excellent quality paperback
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on 3 September 2001
The story of Michel Dufrenoy, a poet, in 1960s. A sad story though. This book is not as extraordinary as Verne's other novels like 'Journey to the Centre of The Earth' and '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'. However, you can still read it in one day (as I did). You will again be amazed with the prophecies of Verne. I sometimes think, whether he visited our time with a time machine or not. The chapter about the bookseller who has not heard about Victor Hugo is a bit sad, however Verne gives you a bit of hope soon afterwards by taking Michel to the Royal Library to meet his uncle... Verne is talking about almost everything of the twentieth century in the book; music, politics, technology, architecture, literature, etc. I quite enjoyed reading this book, however it was not exactly what I was expecting from Jules Verne.
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