Sunday, May 03, 2009

Book Review: "Eiffel's Tower"

Jill Jonnes' new book is Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count (Viking, 2009). It tackles each of those elements in alternating and intersecting narratives, not breaking significant new scholarly ground but telling a fascinating story about the 1889 Paris World's Fair and its characters. One of those characters was Eiffel's Tower, the iconic behemoth now instantly recognizable to us as the very symbol of Paris. Its design, construction, use and fate are the framework of Jonnes' book, but I liked the way she was able to weave in the human characters of the fair (from Annie Oakley to the Shah of Persia to James Gordon Bennett, Jr.), documenting their interactions with the Tower and with each other.

Perhaps the most enlightening sections of the book for me where those in which Jonnes highlighted the great challenges which accompanied the construction of the Tower, from the debate over its design (many thought it hideous) to the technological difficulties involved (including how to create functioning elevators) and to the businesses it would house (numerous restaurants, plus a satellite office of Le Figaro which published a special edition De la Tour during the Fair).

Quite a pleasant read, well enhanced with many photographs (interspersed throughout the book rather than plunked in a center section) and with reasonable source notes, even if these are not indicated in the text as they should be.

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