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paris at the end of the world book coverReviewed by Jax Kepple

World War I was an absolutely incredible, global war that permanently changed European life forever. John Baxter’s Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918 aimed to take the journey through Paris to see how the city and the civilians coped with the war. However, this swift read is one of disjointed vignettes, threaded through with a narrative of how Baxter’s grandfather served from Australia and what had happened to him.

Each chapter takes on another aspect of European life and how the war affected it – it reads like several magazine stories, with one theme (WWI) but not much else joining it together. It jumps from prostitution to doughboys to Picasso’s Parade ballet. And all these topics are just touched upon and not detailed, all the while interspersed with pictures and recruiting ads so the reader is able to fly through the book. There was a focus on French poet and author Jean Cocteau, but again, just light stories about certain aspects of his life.

Life in England is also a focus, which doesn’t flow well with what the book was supposed to be about. It definitely is interesting, but again, this was supposed to be Paris-focused book. Baxter does not go into war strategy, focusing more on how the soldiers got through the trenches, the art they made and how they were able to eat. It is all very engrossing but again, left me wanting for more details and information.

Baxter also recounts how he researched what happened to his grandfather, involving an expert in military history who may or may not have murdered someone. This break in the historical retelling is jarring and doesn’t flow naturally from one chapter to the next. While it seemed like it could be interesting to find out what happened to his grandfather, the actual story is a big letdown. And then, bizarrely, Baxter decides to add a fictional element to the grandfather’s story which is immediately debunked.

Unfortunately, what could have been a well-researched and thorough look at what happened in Paris during WWI turns into a jumbled hodgepodge of tidbits from all over Europe.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.