Paris Babylon: The Story of the Paris Commune
As Christiansen illustrates with marvelous immediacy, the carnival facade of the Second Empire, presided over by the aging libertine Louis Napoleon and his unpopular fashion plate of a wife, the Empress Eugenie, masked an empty soul. The Empire may have been destined to collapse under the weight of its own corruption, but in the meantime there was fun to be had and money to be made. A genius of self-promotion, Louis Napoleon managed to sustain his reign of "quiet tyranny" more by propaganda than by active repression. Christiansen begins his account of the tottering Empire with a wonderfully gossipy description of Louis Napoleon's massive (and hugely boring) hunting parties at Compiegne. From there he moves on to Paris, chronicling everything from its fervor for shopping, its gourmandise, and its anxieties about sex to its legendary artists, who included Baudelaire, Monet, Degas, Offenbach, and Zola. But this dazzling city, rebuilt by the brilliant and ruthless social engineer Baron Haussmann to showcase the splendors of the Second Empire - its grands magasins, grands boulevards, and grandes horizontales (as the famous courtesans of the day were called) - was soon to be wracked by the Franco-Prussian War, the five-month Siege of Paris and the bloody civil war that followed it, and the subsequent emergence of the Commune.
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