Paris wins something after all

July 15, 2005

Parisians may still be smarting from the loss of the Olympic Games to London, but one academic is doing his bit to rebuild bridges between the two capitals.

Colin Jones, professor of French history at Warwick University, has been awarded the Franco-British Society's Enid McLeod literary prize, for his book Paris: Biography of a City.

The prize is awarded to the book published in the past year that, in the judges' opinion, has contributed the most to Franco-British understanding.

In winning the award, Professor Jones follows in the footsteps of notable previous winners such as Sebastian Faulks and Antonia Fraser.

Professor Jones' book is the result of his lifelong interest in Paris and its story. But it was not until he encountered Roy Porter's London: A Social History that he was reminded that the French capital had not been subject to the same kind of scrutiny.

"Paris has an image," he said. "You never see Paris for the first time.

You've always seen it before.

"Sometimes it's the city of revolution, of the working classes. By 1889, when you've got the Eiffel Tower going up, it's the city of modernity, of light. It's a changing myth.

"I wanted to tell the story of chronology. I wanted to stress in each of the chapters that I was talking about Paris as a place - the history, the built architecture and the Parisians."

Jones bills the book as a biography and, while it's structured chronologically, each chapter features three insets - on a Parisian, on a "sight of memory", such as the Eiffel Tower, and a "sight of forgetting".

The sight of forgetting encompasses some of the most disturbing moments in Paris's history, such as the Velodrome d'Hiver where Jews were rounded up before being taken to Auschwitz.

The three judges were united in selecting Jones as the winner and praised his even-handed treatment of the subject.

One judge, Cynthia Gamble, from Lancaster University, said: "The style is most readable. It is a book one wants to consult endlessly and with immense benefit."

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