Americans often look back on Paris between the World Wars as a charming escape from the problems and politics of home. In this bold and original study, Brooke Blower shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Drawing on a range of sources in French as well as English, she uncovers the breadth of American activities in the capital, the lessons visitors drew from their stay, and the passionate responses they elicited from others. For many sojourners-not just for those most famous expatriates- Paris served as an important crossroads, a place where Americans reimagined their position in the world and grappled with what it meant to be American in the new century, even as they came up against conflicting interpretations of American power by others. Interwar Paris may have been a capital of the arts, notorious for its pleasures, but it was also a city on the brink-a tinderbox smoldering with radical and reactionary plots, suffused with noise, filth, and chaos, teeming with immigrants and refugees, Communist rioters, fascist admirers, overzealous police, and obnoxious tourists.
Sketching Americans' place in this evocative landscape, Blower shows how arrivals were drawn into the capital's battles, both wittingly and unwittingly. As a result, Americans in Paris found themselves on the front lines of an emerging culture of political engagements-a transatlantic matrix of causes and connections, which encompassed debates about "Americanization" and rising forms of "anti-American" protest as well as a host of international controversies, such as those surrounding the Sacco-Vanzetti affair and plans for an American Legion parade down the Champs-Elysees. A model for writing urban, transnational history, this book offers a nuanced portrait of how Americans helped to shape the cultural politics of interwar Paris, and, at the same time, how Paris helped to shape modern American political culture.