Why did I love this book?
Among so many brilliant authors on city life – if I could have chosen 10 books, I would have surely also have given you books by critics like Walter Benjamin and Marshall Berman, and writers like James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Charles Baudelaire. One of the pleasures in reading Vanessa Schwartz’s book is that she knows and draws on so much of this older work to think about the astonishing spectacle of late 19th-century Paris. Here is life on its boulevards; sensational stories of the city as presented in mass-circulation newspapers; the morgue (!) as a place for both science and entertainment; the wax museum, the panorama, and the cinema. A sensationalized version of everyday life is what most fascinates the author, and us as readers, making us think about what is “real” and what is important to understand, public and private life, commercialism, modern ways of seeing and judging, and ourselves as moderns.