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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful guide to the city's development, its quirks and its oddities
There's no shortage of guides to Paris for the English-speaker; there are plenty, too, that stray off the beaten track and take in the less touristed quarters of the city, that cover Belleville and Bercy as well as the Île de la Cité and the Champs-Elysées. However, for the English-speaker who wants a feeling for the city's variety over time as well as...
Published on 14 April 2009 by Earthshaker

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Quite boring
This book, as a general read, is quite boring. It mainly covers the buildings of Paris but, I am not sure this would be of interest to anyone who has a desire to know about the buildings since it is not in any detail. Some snippets of information about certain characters and events but it has a tendency to allude to and skip over events that to my mind, would make this...
Published 9 months ago by Pen Name


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful guide to the city's development, its quirks and its oddities, 14 April 2009
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This review is from: Paris: Biography of a City (Paperback)
There's no shortage of guides to Paris for the English-speaker; there are plenty, too, that stray off the beaten track and take in the less touristed quarters of the city, that cover Belleville and Bercy as well as the Île de la Cité and the Champs-Elysées. However, for the English-speaker who wants a feeling for the city's variety over time as well as space, who wants detail on how the city grew and treasures the quirky details and unvisited suburbs as well as the main boulevards - the sort of detail that's copiously available on London, of course - there's much less. Colin Jones's history, then, fills a need, and fills it brilliantly.

There's a detailed history of the growth of Paris, covering both the politics and also, more importantly, the social history - the river-merchants' trade and their guild are crucial, as witness the ship on the arms of the city. Jones also, in a series of "side-bars", explores particular themes or localities in a manner that cuts across the chronology and opens up fascinating sidelights on the city - subjects here include the Roman amphitheatre, the Arènes de Lutéce, which was lost under the growing city and remains strangely off the tourist trails; the Rue Mouffetard and its role first as major artery out of the medieval city and then as Bohemian hang-out in the early twentieth century; lost rivers such as the Bièvre, the iceworks on which gave its name to the Glacière metro stop, and so on.

I could have done with a little more information on the area outside the fortifications, the "banlieu" beyond the Ville-de-Paris department (Jones covers its modern form well, but we hear little about these settlements before the city sweeps over them in the twentieth century) but this is a trifling point: this is a fantastic guide to the multi-layered history of the city and warmly recommended to any English speaker visiting the city or just wanting to wallow in it vicariously.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly informative and entertaining history of the city, 25 April 2008
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N. Rodgers "Nigel Rodgers" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Paris: Biography of a City (Paperback)
Books about Paris are so numerous - ranging from the dryly academic to pap designed for a teleseries - that another needs to stand out to justify itself. Colin Jones' fascinating Biography of a City does just that. It begins with Paris under the Roman empire and ends with an optimistic view of the city in the 21st century. Throughout, Jones never lets great learning make for heavy reading. Jones clearly loves Paris but he avoids any temptation to clichéd sentimentality. This helps make his book on Paris probably the best for decades. It has some very original illustrations (though only in monochrome) and is handily portable. Lengthy boxes - on famous monuments such as the Café Procope, Victor Hugo and the Eiffel Tower, or oddities like the Arcades and the Catacombs - break the book entertainingly. Whether you are planning a first visit to Paris or want to delve far more deeply into its history, it is probably the best book around on the subject.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Comprehensive, 2 Feb. 2009
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This review is from: Paris: Biography of a City (Paperback)
I read this before, during and after a recent trip to Paris. Colin Jones' research has obviously been enormous, but he manages to leaven a huge volume of information with lively anecdotes and telling images. It certainly added greatly not only to my knowledge but also to my enjoyment of Paris.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paris: Biography of a City, 18 April 2006
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Mrs. M. G. Taylor "paris fan" (Portsmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Paris: Biography of a City (Paperback)
Like most people I love to visit Paris and have done so on more than one occasion. At times there is a distinct lack of English at the majority of 'sights' and 'tourist' destinations. I had a desire to learn more beyond the tourist leaflets and booklets I could find. This book is a very readable explanation of the times of Paris from early beginnings. It also contains many illustrations. A must read before you go...or on your return!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 19 Jan. 2015
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Mr. John Heath "nufc masochist" (Guildford UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Paris: Biography of a City (Paperback)
Informative and detailed. Not portable though
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A massively factual survey, 20 April 2013
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This review is from: Paris: Biography of a City (Paperback)
I'm not a historian: I can only comment on this book as a general reader.

I was disappointed by what seemed to me the almost complete suppression of historical imagination. Part of my reason for buying the book was wanting to know what living in Paris felt like to real individual people in different periods. There's very little of that. Especially in the later chapters, there are plenty of snippety references to things said in novels or poems or presented in paintings or films, but none of a kind to suggest that Jones had much interest in getting into the mindset of the artists in question so as to see things from their point of view, and there's little or none of the testimony from personal documents and letters that could have told us so much.

That said, Paris: Biography of a City has a hugely interesting story to tell. It marshals a vast array of facts clearly and efficiently in a brisk, workmanlike prose that may not offer much interest in itself but never clogs the narrative either. It has all the virtues of a good textbook on a grand scale. In terms of bringing the past to life it seemed to me altogether inferior to John Hale's The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, but it was well worth reading and is a book I envisage going back to for reference purposes.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Quite boring, 5 Jun. 2014
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This book, as a general read, is quite boring. It mainly covers the buildings of Paris but, I am not sure this would be of interest to anyone who has a desire to know about the buildings since it is not in any detail. Some snippets of information about certain characters and events but it has a tendency to allude to and skip over events that to my mind, would make this book more interesting, for example the incarceration of the monarch during the Revolution or the famous "Pearl necklace scandal. . I certainly wanted a bit more gossip and daily living information. I didn't finish it so t is possible that after the Revolution it all gets better..
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Downlifting Read, 10 Nov. 2010
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This review is from: Paris: Biography of a City (Paperback)
I know, it's me!! A lot of people have given this book excellent reviews, but it simply reminded me of why I gave up history at school as soon as I could! I just found it dry and boring. History at the level of kings.

I live just outside of Paris and I felt I ought to learn a little of its history to make it more enjoyable when I flanner around the city on the weekends.

For those of you who want to know a rip-roaring, bawdy, fun and nasty history, told at the street level, then I recommend Andrew Hussey's "Paris, The Secret History". Colin Jones' book I could not finish!
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Paris: Biography of a City
Paris: Biography of a City by Colin Jones (Paperback - 6 April 2006)
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