Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910

Written by Jeffrey H. Jackson
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

When I first encountered this book, I was intrigued, but a bit embarrassed: I’d never heard of the Paris flood of 1910. I felt much comforted when I read in the author’s end note that he, an associate professor of history and Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Rhodes College in Memphis, hadn’t heard of it either until 2005. Coincidentally, this was the year of Hurricane Katrina and the devastating flood in New Orleans, and the author compares the two floods in his epilogue. Jackson has written an engaging account of the Paris flood, from the climatic, environmental, and manmade factors that precipitated it, to descriptions of how Parisians and those in the nearby suburbs reacted and coped, to lessons learned from the devastation and how some changes were made. The author refers to Parisians’ belief in Système D—the sense that they could overcome difficult circumstances—and this is borne out through the glimpses of residents of the city going through their everyday activities as the waters continue to rise. The book includes selected vivid photographs, while more are available at the accompanying website,