The Seine: The River that Made Paris

Reviewed by Deane Barker tags: paris, france, geography

This is a wonderful book, more for the format than the topic.

First, the topic – it’s about a river. The Seine starts in southern France and flow northward through Paris to the English Channel. The book is all about this river.

(I wasn’t actually interested in the topic, but there was a “Buy Two, Get One Free” sale, so I basically got a third book for free. This was the most interesting third one I could find.)

But it’s the format I loved. The author came up with chapters that each deal with a specific aspect of The Seine. Like, she considered it was a jewel and identified each facet of it. She asked herself, what all the individual topics you need to think about to really understand The Seine.

Each chapter is one of these topics. Variously –

  • Where the river starts

  • Where it flows through champagne country

  • Background on “Sequanna,” the Greek goddess for which the river is named

  • The booksellers that work on the riverbanks in Pris

  • The barges that travel the river

  • The police force of the river

  • The islands (one of which has city hall)

  • The movies made about the river

  • The pollution problem

  • The rowing and fishing

  • The “unknown woman of the Seine” – a suicide that somehow became the face for the Rescusi-Annie CPR dolls (I’m serious…)

  • The harbor and port where it flows into The Channel

The author does a lovely job keeping each chapter self-contained and centered around a particular topic, or aspect of the river. One imagines her making a “chapter list” then just writing an individual chapter a day or something. In every chapter, you know exactly what she’s talking about, so it’s easy to stay focused, and easy to pick up where you left off.

The resulting… gestalt, genuinely gives you a feel for the river. It’s peaked my interest in visiting, and I feel like I have a…360-degree view of the river, to over-use a hackneyed phrase.

Book Info

Elaine Sciolino

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