The Making of Paris Cover

The Making of Paris

The Story of How Paris Evolved from a Fishing Village into the World's Most Beautiful City

Russell Kelley

Lyons Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2021, 320 pages

Book Review published on: August 25, 2023

The Making of Paris is a historical nonfiction novel providing an overview of the evolution of Paris from its beginning as a Gallo-Roman Wall in 308 CE to a large city of 2.3 million on 40.5 square miles. It covers transformational leadership initiatives from Louis IX/Saint Louis, Henri IV/Henry IV, and Napoleon I that propelled the city into what it is today. The story leaves the reader feeling familiar with the most populous city in France and wanting to know more about the development of other cities. Author Russell Kelley’s book is well researched and will likely resonate with individuals who are interested in Paris or development of large cities.

The Making of Paris spotlights the infrastructure, culture, and leadership of Paris over time. Throughout the book, the city is shaped by its leaders, people, neighbors, and infrastructure. The leadership’s mission of development pushes the borders of the city ever outward. This advancement, which began on a small island in the Seine, included the development of churches, educational institutions, and gardens which shaped the future of the citizens. Each progressive development is influenced by the movement of the river Seine, where the Parisii tribe lived, along with ever expanding walls to harbor the people.

Many of Paris’s leaders are described as the architects for large-scale changes to the landscape. Paris’s leadership grew the island of Paris like a tree with rings of walls connecting the small island on the Seine with wooden bridges on both the right and left banks, called the Grand Pont and Petit Pont, respectively. Kelley discusses the strategy of leadership chronologically starting with the Gallo-Roman period through present day as he reviews the buildings and streets of Paris developed by those leaders. The Franks, Vikings, Capetians, the House of Valois, the Bourbon dynasty, Napoleon I, the Second Republic, and the Third Republic are a few of the influences.

Over two thousand years, walls were constructed in ever-widening circles. These fortifications were designed to identify the city and defend it from future threats. In the early years, churches and hospitals were built, followed by educational institutions, gardens, city buildings, shopping centers, residential towers, and public transportation. Demolition, construction, and restoration projects helped distinguish the Paris we know today.

The Isle of France started as the King of France’s personal domain. During the first millennium, wooden bridges were built connecting the left and right banks, and the Gallo-Roman wall was built, along with the first hospitals and churches.

Six other walls surrounded the city in the following thousand years, built by the Capetians, the House of Valois, the Bourbons, the July Monarchy, republics, empires, wars, and sieges. In 1791, the Farmers-General wall was built for taxation. By the mid-1800s, half of the population bordered on destitution; they were without personal bathrooms or toilets when Baron Haussmann began the modernization of Paris.

Today, France is made up of art, residential towers, central food markets, gardens, a high-speed train, Euro Disney, twelve million people, and a plan to host the Summer Olympics in 2024.

Kelley describes the development of Paris by its leaders over the last two thousand years. The individual consideration of the leaders can be implied retrospectively as we consider the development of Paris from a historical perspective. Future leaders looking to transform their cities would do well to consider providing intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence when considering most of the world’s cities continue to grow at unprecedented rates.

The Making of Paris leaves the reader feeling familiar with the well-established city of Paris. The book leaves enduring images, an admiration for Paris, and insight into its history. Many of the structures mentioned took decades if not centuries to come to fruition for a city that has set cultural standards in art. Kelley’s detailed insight leaves readers with an appreciation for the city as if they were looking at a two-thousand-year-old idea wondering what will happen next.

Author Russell Kelley, who lived in Paris for almost thirty years, is an American lawyer and author. Additionally, he’s written books about coral reefs and Palm Beach. The story will leave readers wanting to know more about the history of other large cities and a desire to see them through the same lens as Kelley saw Paris.

Book Review written by: Kathy Kim Strand, MEd, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas