Versailles by Colin Jones
*I did receive a digital version of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review*
The Palace of Versailles is one of the most iconic buildings of western civilization and Versailles by Colin Jones is a book that brings this interesting building into focus. From very humble origins as a little hunting camp to its modern tourism association, the author covers the entire life history of this magnificent structure. Also included are some biographical notes of the Bourbon dynasty (and some others), a little bit of French history, and a dabbling of modern heritage and curating.
First and foremost, while the book had quite a few images, some images, sketches, or diagrams of the entire Versailles complex would have been appreciated. This would be especially so if they showed the changes over time to the site. Some parts of Versailles were photographed in the book, but with such a vast and dynamic place such as Versailles, it was hard to exactly envision what was taking place with new construction or relocation or restructuring. (This is especially true under Louis XIV who was always doing something new or moving something else around!) The book hinted at how powerful having the aristocratic French court at Versailles was under the Bourbon royalty, especially, once again, under Louis XIV. This literal political importance of Versailles could have been expanded upon some to demonstrate the pure political power of the location.
Even so, this book is still a fine example of topical history. It begins with Versailles’ obscure origins and first prominence as a favorite hunting lodge under Louis XIII. It then moves to cover in depth Versailles under Louis XIV as this was certainly the most dynamic and important era in its history. The rest of the Bourbon rulers are also covered with a brief overview of its neglect during the 19th century. A last chapter covers its conservation and restoration during the 19th century and the figures who allowed Versailles to be the modern attraction it is today. These latter sections of the book are quite interesting and are much appreciated. It may have been easy to just cover Versailles under its heyday under the Bourbons, but it was certainly worth it to see Versailles become a hot potato for the following powers of Napoleon, Republics, and restored monarchs. It was enlightening to read about the “rediscovery” of the site as Versailles struggle to find its own identity without its original raison d’etre.
Overall, Versailles by Colin Jones is a great resource for anyone looking to learn about Versailles’ physical as well as political history, including its contemporary role as an icon of Western European civilization.
4 out of 5 stars.
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