This book is a history of the 1889 Paris World's Fair. The title together with the long subtitle can pretty well serve as the review of the book since it names many of the persons covered by the book. In its coverage of the French art scene are such names as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Whistler and Bonheur. Also covered are Annie Oakley (sharp shooter), and James Gordon Bennett, Jr (publisher New York Herald). The central focus of the book is Gustave Eiffel's design and construction of the now famous Paris landmark, and his success in spite of many obstacles and critics. Indeed, criticizing the proposed plans for the tower seemed to be the favorite past time of the elite Parisians who considered themselves to be the arbitrators of good taste."The powerful politicians Pierre Tirard and radical leader Georges Clemanceau both railed in now familiar fashion against Eiffel’s tower with Tirard denouncing it as 'Anti-artistic, contrary to French genius, a project more in character with America where taste is not yet very developed than Europe, much less France.' "
As a young man, Eiffel was an engineer at a time when the profession was widely considered to be a mean and uncultured profession. Consequently his marriage proposal to an upper middleclass woman was refused because of his low social position. Poetic justice seems to have prevailed in the end since his marriage to a provincial girl ended up being happy, and he went on to be more wealthy and famous than most of his contemporaries. (Not all civil engineers end up being wealthy and famous.) One of the reasons I was interested in this book was because Gustave Eiffel is one of history's more successful and better known civil engineers. That happens to be my own profession though no famous landmark is going to be named after me.