Harriss knows that the Eiffel Tower, proudest construction of Gustave Eiffel, the 19th century ""Magicien du For,"" was in...


THE TALLEST TOWER: Eiffel and the Belle Epoque

Harriss knows that the Eiffel Tower, proudest construction of Gustave Eiffel, the 19th century ""Magicien du For,"" was in the end ""a gigantic toy"" perfectly suited to the soaring high spirits of la belle epoque. But as a symbol it was so much more. Built for the Paris Exposition of 1889, it was also a display of France's new technological muscle and an ostentatious sign of miraculous recovery from the humiliating defeat by the German armies in 1870. And, though the government of the Third Republic tactfully downplayed it, the Tower marked the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. A 1000-ft, tower had long been ""a virtual obsession of 19th century engineers on both sides of the Atlantic"" for, as Harriss so pleasantly instructs us, this was ""the heroic age of engineers,"" a machine-proud era that saw its railroads and its beautiful iron bridges as a physical expression of human ingenuity and the invincibility of material progress. Though its creator waxed lyrical about how valuable the Tower would be for predicting weather, or in time of war, an enemy advance on Paris, deep in their hearts Frenchmen knew that the Tower was an utterly superfluous indulgence -- that was no small part of its charm. Naturally there were a few soreheads who announced in stentorian tones that the noble skyline of Paris would be forever ruined by the erection of ""this useless and monstrous Tower"" and Guy de Maupassant, unreconstructed to the end, said he was leaving Paris because of ""the odious shadow of the odious column of bolted metal."" But the people loved it and followed its progress all the way to the top. Harriss actually manages to immerse us in the construction job rivet by bolt with architectural drawings to scale and a detailed explanation of how this magnificent feat of engineering was designed to withstand the highest velocity winds. Certainly the best biography of a building and the cultural climate which spawned it we've read in a very long time.

Pub Date: April 11, 1975


Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1975