Review: Paris at the End of the World: How the City of Lights Soared in Its Darkest Hour, 1914-1918 ~ John Baxter

Paris at the end of the worldA preeminent writer on Paris, John Baxter brilliantly brings to life one of the most dramatic and fascinating periods in the city’s history.

From 1914 through 1918 the terrifying sounds of World War I could be heard from inside the French capital. For four years, Paris lived under constant threat of destruction. And yet in its darkest hour, the City of Light blazed more brightly than ever. It’s taxis shuttled troops to the front; its great railway stations received reinforcements from across the world; the grandest museums and cathedrals housed the wounded, and the Eiffel Tower hummed at all hours relaying messages to and from the front.

At night, Parisians lived with urgency and without inhibition. Artists like Pablo Picasso achieved new creative heights. And the war brought a wave of foreigners to the city for the first time, including Ernest Hemingway and Baxter’s own grandfather, Archie, whose diaries he used to reconstruct a soldier’s-eye view of the war years. A revelatory achievement, Paris at the End of the World shows how this extraordinary period was essential in forging the spirit of the city beloved today.

2 Thumbs-UpI was really looking forward to sitting down and reading this book, after all according to the title I would get an insight into what life was like for the French, in particular Parisians during World War One.  What I actually found between the pages was more a memoir written by the Author of his search for his Grandfather who was in Paris during the ‘war to end all wars’.

Questions I wanted to know such as the Parisians reaction to a war raging so close to their city was not covered and, although the journey of discovery the Author writes about was marginally interesting, not enough was in it to stop me asking myself what this had to do with not only Paris, but the way it reacted to the Great War.

This book turned out to be a huge disappointment as I was hoping for more of a social history of Paris, a city I greatly love and another perspective on the attitudes of the people who lived here and in this time.  Each time the reader comes close to Paris it seems as if the Author decides to take the left fork in the road instead of following the path into the city, some readers may not find this irritating but for me it was a major peeve, and was one of the reasons this book only receives a 2 thumbs rating.

If the is book had been listed as a memoir the disappointment I felt in it would not have been so great and, it would probably have received a higher rating; also if this book were re-categorized into the memoir genre, I feel it would reach a wider, more satisfied, reading audience than it possibly does under its current classification.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy memoirs, but I highly doubt I will read anything else by this Author.

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