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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

on 23 September 2003
Funnily enough, although not French, Horne's account of the 1870/71 siege of Paris and the subsequent Paris Commune is far more readable than numerous books I have read on the subject by French authors, including the authoratitive work by Lissagaray.
Although essentially a history book, which focuses more on the siege than the Commune, the author manages to combine a very readable narrative style with concrete fact.
One has the impression of reading a good story coupled with an accurate description of an historical episode.In fact, although I knew "what happened in the end", this was the first book on that period that I've actually managed to finish. Most books are so cluttered with names and other details, that one soon becomes bogged down.
Whether it be his descriptions of colourful characters such as the revolutionary doctor Gustave Flourens, the "Hero of Belleville" (whose tomb can still be visited today in Paris's Pere Lachaise cemetary), who once stormed into a meeting of the provisional government, jumped up on the table scraping his stirrups into the wood and kicking papers into the frightened ministers' faces or the anecdotes of the siege when starving Parisians were forced to eat the animals in the zoo (including the elephant), Horne's book is so well written that it is in fact very difficult to put down.
In short, it is a combination of a good novel and genuine historical fact. Even readers unfamiliar or formerly not interested in the period will find it captivating!
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on 13 November 2015
A brilliant portrayal of a heady and fatalistic time in French and European history. With a cast of characters filling every niche, including the great figure of Paris itself, which plays a role in the narrative quite as if it were one of the human agents involved. I would have liked to see more prints or even photos from the period but that is my only slight annoyance at what is a great book.
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on 19 April 2008
How on Earth could one of the greatest cities of the World have been caught up in a medieval siege barely a hundred years ago? And given that that city was nineteenth century Paris, what happened in the inevitable revolution that followed? Set against the backdrop of the second Reich's rise and the second Empire's collapse, "The Fall of Paris" is an enthralling account of civilisation's sudden crisis and painful recovery. A Horne's account of the bloodshed and despair is ameliorated by a wealth of insight into the individuals living and fighting hopefully through the trauma, and is well stocked with the military, technical and moral details of the defence and siege of Paris through 1870-71.
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on 16 November 2006
This book is a masterpiece of historical literature and it is a shame that it is not easily available in print. The tape may be as good though I hope it is not abridged.

Beginning with the Paris exhibition in 1865 the book paints the magnificence of the 2nd Empire under the aegis of that motto "enrichez vous!" - but reveals its crumbling exterior and intrigues. How wonderful Paris has always been and how much blood has also been spilt in it.

The first section deals with the siege of Paris and the second with the commune as an aftermath.

Bismark, German military superiority, eating cats and elephants, the Parisians, balloon messages, the winners and losers, the political upstarts and setting, 20,000 shot like dogs in the end; - facts, opinions, feelings all combined in an impressive array of letters, diary entries, accounts all fused into a coherent and compelling account.

The work could not be put down with lessons for today.
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on 11 April 2013
Thorough piece of work, and quite readable. Touch heavy in places but it is rather historical but with a sense of the characters through the book; it does not feel like a history text, rather a well informed review. His interest in the story really comes through, that story is heavy, complex, mirky, chaotic, and somewhat sad in real life so it is perhaps an achievement it is so readable. It sets one up for understanding 20th C France, particularly its major moments. And surprisingly it really throws the atrocities of the 20th century into relief. We did not become ghastly in 1914, we could just record it better. The Fall of Paris just happened on the cusp of recording and mass reporting what really goes on, in that sense it is also a useful read for students of the broader history of Europe and the West in the 20th and 21st centuries.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 February 2011
Alistair Horne is one of the preeminent historians of the 20th Century. He is English, but normally casts his eye across the channel, to events further south, and provides important perspective to bitterly contested partisan events that reverberate even today. I consider his A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) which ultimately proved a reference book in the waning days of the last occupant of the White House, to be his masterpiece. Its subject is the Algerian war for independence, 1954-62. But his trilogy on the three Franco-German wars, yes the wars between "the children of Charlemagne," that spanned a period of 70 years, comes a very close second. His first book on these three wars was concerning the middle one, World War I, and he focused on the devastating battle that epitomized that war, and entitled his book: The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 (Penguin History) He then went back to deal with the first Franco-German conflict, the one that occurred in 1870, and it is this book. His last is the one on WW II, with the focus on the collapse of France in 1940. He entitled the last book, To Lose a Battle: France, 1940 Ironically, a battle near the same town, Sedan, was decisive in both 1870 and 1940.

Horne does meticulous research, looking at all sides of the conflict, official documents, as well as diaries and letters of the participants. As he said in the preface, he placed a few ads in historical journals, requesting documents, expecting a few, and he received well over a hundred. He masters his material, and then writes a rich, detailed, but immensely readable account of the conflict. As always with Horne, it does help to know French, since there are certain passages for which he provides no translation. The author has an uncanny sense for the ironies of a given historical moment, and often tells his story with these as a focus, such as the very unlikely first victims of the Algerian War for Independence, young, be-speckled French school teachers.

The irony this time starts with "The Greatest Show on Earth," the Great Exhibition in Paris, at the height of the glory of the Second Empire of Louis-Napoleon. Paris was the center of the "civilized world," the city to be emulated by all other. Horne depicts the "glitz and glitter," and within three years the citizens of Paris would be eating rats to stay alive. How could this have happened? That is the subject of the first two thirds of the book: how Germany and France became enemies over events in Spain, the lightning Germany victory at Sedan, the encirclement and siege of Paris, and its eventually surrender. Of the many worthwhile details of that conflict, it was the first time aerial objects were used: hot air balloons were used for transport out of the besieged city.

The last third of the book relates to an even grimmer aspect of this period, the fighting involving the Commune, which seized power in Paris after the Prussians left. The forces of reaction, led by Adolphe Thiers, surrounded Paris again, and eventually crushed the Commune. It was a bitter fight of Frenchman against Frenchman, over 20,000 dead, far more than in the more well known French revolution. The Commune was fundamentally about higher wages for the workers. As John Steinbeck had one of his characters say in The Grapes of Wrath "... a communist is anyone who wants 30 cents an hour when I'm paying 25 cents." Again, with Horne's eye to irony, in this case rather bitter and black, the Commune did achieve its purpose: so many workers were killed that "the market" raised its wages due to the scarcity thereafter.

Threads of history. Horne writes at the end that in 1964, when three Soviet cosmonauts went into orbit, they carried three "sacred relics"; "a picture of Marx, a picture of Lenin- and a ribbon off a Communard flag." The wall in Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where the last of the Communards were executed, remains a place of "pilgrimage" today, each May 1st.

An immensely erudite and readable history, deserving the full 5-stars plus.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on August 03, 2009)
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on 28 December 2014
I am an ardent admirer of Alistair Horne, mainly on account of his magnum opus "The Price of Glory". This book is not in the same league, which is a shame. It did fulfil an important function in castng light on an otherwise empty area of my historical education, but it failed to lift me in any way, like Price of Glory. It is hard to identify failings or omissions, rather it is a question of style. Some of the biographies of the major players are vividly drawn, others receive little attention. The major issue of how the bizarre Franco Prussian war started are dealt with in matter of fact terms, where a little animus would have done wonders. During the siege, the intrepid exploits of the balloon aviators were handled in a most exciting way, the pain of the starving population less so. Finally the agony of the commune didn't excite or repulse me... it seemed like an oddity no more, when in reality it was a momentous eventone of a series in French history. I shall give the book the benefit of a second reading and hope that I can return to this critique with my cap in my hand. We will see. Good, on account of it being thorough, but not great.
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on 14 November 2014
This is a fascinating account of a relatively obscure - to us Brits! - period in history. Horne's excellent narrative style manages to incorporate the bigger political and strategic picture while including a wonderful sense of detail and, equally importantly, the personalities involved in a tumultuous period which shaped French and European destinies well into the 20th Century. I'm now very keen to read Horne's two follow-up books on the Battle of Verdun and the collapse of France in the 1940 Blitzkrieg.
My only gripe would be that the maps were unreadable smudges in the version I received, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment (after all, that's what Google Maps is for). Recommended.
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on 10 October 2016
This is a thorough and comprehensive history of the siege of Paris and the rise of the commune. I learned a lot from it. It does have flaws however. In places Horne assumes the reader will have prior knowledge of the subject (he often refers to events that have no explanation in the text); there was somewhat too much detail for my taste about some (often fairly tangential) aspects of the siege and finally - my most serious complaint - there were far too few maps to explain the movement of forces etc. I was reduced at times to reading the book with an atlas to hand - why do publishers skimp on such obvious aids to understanding?
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on 16 October 2015
Fantastic account of this very important event in European history. Very readable and interesting. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the remarkable relationship between France and Germany. I'm going to read the other two books in the trilogy by Alistair Horne.
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