“How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City,” by Joan DeJean, is full of creative insights on the symptoms of urban modernity as well as bold statements about how Paris came to be one of the world’s great cities.
In the middle decades of the 1600s, a rash of cloak thefts struck Paris. One minute, a businessman would be swaddled in ermine, fashioned by a predecessor to Hermés or Chanel, with a soft collar drawn up to his brow. The next minute, he would find himself bracing against the wind coming off the Seine, with his prized possession flapping down the street, powered by an alien set of legs. […]