The Tallest Tower: Eiffel And The Belle Epoque

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9781588321022: The Tallest Tower: Eiffel And The Belle Epoque
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The Paris Universal Exposition of 1889 celebrated France's recovery from the humiliating defeat of the Franco-Prussian War, and Gustave Eiffel's thousand-foot tower represented the glory of that achievement.  But the iron tower was a stunning accomplishment in its own right, the tallest structure made by man.The story of the Eiffel Tower is also that of a master builder of the industrializing nineteenth century.  Wielding iron in new ways, Eiffel scattered his creations around the globe--train stations and vaulting bridges in Europe, South America, and Indochina, the interior bracing of the Statue of Liberty in the United States.  At the peak of his career he easily won the contract to design the audacious monument that came to symbolize not only Paris but a rare moment in history.Over the years the tower has been scorned, exalted, analyzed by philosophers for hidden meaning, and seized upon by eccentrics for bizarre stunts.  Exuberant culmination of the nineteenth century's unreserved enthusiasm for machines, the Eiffel Tower remains the world's most famous landmark.

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One evening I took a random stroll on the Champ de Mars, not far from my home in Paris. After walking for a while, I found myself beneath the Eiffel Tower and glanced up. Above me the colossal, intricate, overarching tracery of crisscrossing girders soared more majestically than the columns of any gothic cathedral. Although I had looked at the tower countless times during my years as a Paris-based journalist, this time I really saw it. I was held, fascinated, awe-struck. I decided to find out more about this odd, captivating structure. I learned that the tower was not merely a fairground gimmick, but the all-but-inevitable outgrowth of an era, in some ways the epitome of an age.

This age, the Belle Epoque, was the age that, with a remarkable sense of itself, created the Eiffel Tower. A synthesis of technology and mood, this bizarre construction was a compendium of engineering methods and materials developed during the first century of the Industrial Revolution. It was also, it seems to me, the most expressive statement of how one part of the human race felt about itself at a pivotal point in its history.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph Harriss has served as a TIME correspondent in Paris, Algiers and Brussels, a Reader’s Digest staff writer covering Europe, and a foreign affairs columnist for The Dallas Morning News. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The American Spectator, Smithsonian Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in Paris.

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