Plugging away at a long(ish) book

I’ve been plugging away at Alistair Horne’s Seven Ages of Paris: Portrait of a City for the last month or so.  I bought a copy while on vacation in Paris (yes, yes, reading it before going *might* have been more useful) and have been reading a few pages at a time.  Despite liking the concept, which orients the ages to a particular king/ruler/political leader or event, I haven’t really been engaged.  It wasn’t until this past weekend, when I read a larger chunk of the book that I realized what was bothering me in terms of construction and tone.  First, the author uses a lot of quotes but doesn’t provide citations for any of them; yes, there is a bibliography for each chapter, but I feel like quotes need a source (yes? no?).  Second, all the women mentioned are described negatively:  Eleanor of Aquitaine was a promiscuous, power-hunger, glory-seeking slut and adulteress; various other queens are drab or stupid or breeding cows; Mme. de Maintenon put Louis XIV on the straight and narrow but was a dour killjoy; etc.  Apparently women in Paris historically were either fishwives or gold-diggers or perhaps both simultaneously, at least in his view.  I actually double checked the copyright date, wondering if this was an older book that might explain the undertone of misogyny (despite the author’s characterization of Paris as a woman and a city that he is fascinated by), but it was only published in 2002.

I was also a little bemused by the way the author skipped over seven years worth of revolution, from execution of Louis XVI to Napoleon, as if those years were irrelevant to the history of Paris.

I haven’t decided if I’ll keep reading, just to finish — and also because my knowledge of post WWII history in France is woeful — or if I want to find another biography of Paris or French history book to cleanse my reading palate.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Plugging away at a long(ish) book

  1. That sounds a bit like overtone rather than undertone. 😦 How disappointing!

    I agree that the quotes ought to be cited if they are going to be used heavily. I don’t always check sources diligently but I start to get really suspicious of authors that aren’t diligent in their citing.

    I’m taking a very (very very) long time to finish listening to The Luminaries and I keep taking breaks from The Signal and the Noise. Luminaries is just boring so easy to forget it’s an option but I am enjoying the signal and the noise. I just keep needing to “quickly read” other books. 🙂

    • At first I didn’t notice it. Because, well, kings/emperors get all the attention and women so often get little unless the author is specifically interested in women’s roles in history. But once I noticed it, it was glaring.

      Why the breaks from The Signal and the Noise?

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