Through anecdotes and capsule biographies of painters, writers, musicians, scientists, and intellectuals, Cronin (The View from Planet Earth, 1981; Catherine, Empress of All the Russias, 1978, etc.) accounts for that dazzling but doomed culture of Paris during the ``Belle Epoque,'' the period between the Great Exhibition of 1900 and WWI. Believing that artists and intellectuals had immense impact on the ``bourgeois civilization'' that was Paris, Cronin re- creates the ``paradigm for civilized living'' from the philosophy of Boutroux, Blondel, and especially Bergson; from the writings of Gide, Proust, Claudel, PÇguy; from the art of Picasso, Matisse (who ``captured the color and joy of life''), Dufy, Utrillo, Modigliani; from the music of DÇbussy (``his finer gradations of feelings''), the theater of Sarah Bernhardt (``gently mannered comedy''), the science of the Curies and Poincoire, and all the arts associated with and stimulated by Diaghilev and the Russian ballet. Chapters on politics, women (their roles and couturiers), interior design, and technology-especially the French success with cinematography, motorcars, and airplanes-all contribute to a sense of prosperity, confidence, optimism, political liberality, the special quality of esprit Cronin defines as intellectual and spiritual confidence. In a perceptive synthesis of science and art, he notes that ``The Fall...has been reversed by the Flight.'' And while his attempt to identify the contributions of some thinkers is occasionally strained, it is always interesting, especially on Gide's spirituality and Claudel's ``redemptive suffering.'' The real limitation is in his excluding the illiterate (believing that ``literature is at the very center of life'') the provincial, and the poor. Still: an engrossingly vivid, immediate, and informed attempt to find a unified view of a culture that was made up of eccentrics, idiosyncrasy, diversity, and alienation.