How Paris Became Paris

Written by Joan DeJean
Review by Kristen Hannum

Everyone knows that Paris looks like it does because of Baron Haussmann, the 19th-century civil servant who broadened the City of Light’s formerly foully narrow streets. Not so fast! King Henri IV is in strong competition for transformer of the city from a nondescript burg, its main distinction being that it had a lot of people, into the marvel of Europe. Good King Henry oversaw the construction of the revolutionarily wide Pont Neuf (shockingly, a bridge without houses) and envisioned the Place Royale, now the Place de Vosges, the oldest planned square in the city. DeJean’s additional chapters cover the Ile St. Louis, the development of city services, the city’s open boulevards and parks, and more. This is excellent, lively history, as good as a visit to the Carnavalet, the museum of Paris, housed in Madame de Sévigné’s former home in the Marais.