Paris Under Water

Paris Under Water
By Jeffrey H Jackson
Palgrave Macmillan £20, 254 pages
FT Bookshop price: £16

Historically, Paris has been vulnerable to heavy rainfall flooding the Seine. Even so, by 1910, that river, “no longer the most fascinating feature of the urban core”, was considered tame.

But a century ago, the Seine proved Parisians wrong when its waters rose and submerged the city. As today, when natural disasters affront our illusions of control over the elements, the flood left people baffled. French newspaper Le Matin asked: “How could science, so sure of itself, be defeated by primitive waters?”

Jackson’s descriptions are reminiscent of New Orleans in 2005, although how Paris pulled together is in stark contrast to the way New Orleans’ inhabitants were failed by those around them.

In spite of the destruction, there is something romantic in Jackson’s narrative and pace. Although shocking, the flood was “thrilling, too”, he says; it is unclear whether these are the projections of a passionate historian or an accurate account of events.

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