A plodding but useful life of a man well known to French readers as the architect behind the great plazas, parks, and avenues of Paris.
Georges Eugène Haussmann (1809–91) didn’t come up with the ambitious 19th-century plan that leveled medieval Paris and put in its place the spacious metropolis familiar to moderns; the credit for that wholesale remaking belongs to Napoleon III, the real hero of this long narrative. But, writes Carmona (History/Sorbonne), Haussmann had the steely will such work required: “authoritarian, pragmatic, and efficient, he was concerned that there should be order in all things.” And never mind the cost; he was so committed to the emperor’s vision of a modern city free of choleric swamps and congested alleys that he tore down his childhood home without a second thought. Haussmann emerges here as a type familiar to any visitor to France: the consummate bureaucrat, convinced of the virtues of central authority, planning, reports—and, of course, of the righteousness of his ways. This self-confident vision formed early on, his biographer asserts, and owes much to an offhand remark Haussmann’s grandfather once made to him: “We don’t know well enough how many resources France contains and how rich and powerful it would become if it were well governed—above all, well administered.” Haussmann filled the bill, ably overseeing the complex and at the time highly controversial work of resettling tens of thousands of people so that such marvels as the Place de la Concorde, Place du Trocadéro, and Champs Elysées could be built. Though Carmona’s narrative lacks the human interest of Robert Caro’s life of Robert Moses, the urban leveler and creator to whom Haussmann is often compared, it capably depicts the man and his time.
Of much interest to students of urban planning and modern European history.