Vive le livre, says the City of Light

by HardyGreen on June 17, 2013

Everything is up to date in Paris, France–or just about everything, as I saw in a recent visit. The once ubiquitous Gitanes and Gauloises have made way for the increasingly popular cigarette electronique.

One of the multitude of bookstores dotting the Paris landscape.

Lunch-goers in the vicinity of the city’s stock exchange can choose the Brasserie De La Bourse or, for the ironically inclined, the Café des Initiés (Café of Insider Trading). On the streets, teens jostle each other and squeal “Oh, my God,” much as if they were in New York or another U.S. city.

But in one respect, Paris seems out of step: Bookstores are everywhere. In the enchanting passages, or covered shopping streets, near the Palais Royal, art-book dealers nest next to stalls trading in used volumes. On the Boulevard de la Opera, there’s even a Brentano’s—shades of New York in the 1980s. The Marais district has Mona Lisait (get it?) among others, while on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, two chains run by the father and son team of Joseph Gibert and Gibert Jeune compete with multi-story outlets that recall New York’s wonderful Eighth Street Bookshop of yore.

Haven’t they heard? Books are dead, non? Or does the City of Light have a bright idea that has dimmed in America?

Kindles must be around in Paris, but I saw few of them—or for that matter, few thumb-twiddling smart-phone texters/walkers. Honestly, though, on the RER train, which I took a lot, I saw few readers of any kind, book or periodical.

And then there appeared a subtle if all too ominous portent lurking

Would Catherine de Medicis have an iPad today?

over the aristocratic Place des Vosges, clearly visible from No. 6, Maison de Victor Hugo: Two-foot high Helvetica type on a nearby wall reading simply “iPad.” Big Brother is indeed coming, as Apple’s own Super Bowl advertisement suggested many years ago.



Victory in a Box: The Story of K-Rations

by HardyGreen on February 20, 2013

Were Wrigley’s chewing gum and Spam really essential World War II products? Their makers made a persuasive case that they were, particularly after they became staples of the K-Rations that fed 40% of U.S. soldiers–as well as providing nourishment to the likes of Pablo Picasso and Lord Rothschild.

My most recent Bloomberg Echoes piece tells the story:


The Continuity of U.S. Company Towns

November 27, 2012

On October 28, I delivered the following remarks as part of the Moses Greeley Parker lecture series in Lowell, Massachusetts:  “Nothing of Francis Cabot Lowell’s utopia has stood the test of time,” asserted architectural historian John Coolidge in 1942. The textile cities of central New England, including Lowell, Lawrence, and Manchester (N.H.) were “sports in [...]

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How the Lowell, Mass. Experience Shaped U.S. Company Towns

October 26, 2012

I’ll be speaking at the Lowell National Historical Park on Sunday, as part of the Moses Greely Parker lecture series. Lowell was the first company town in America, and some say its “utopian” model was soon forgotten. Not so, I say: The Lowell model, from its use of young women workers living in dorms to [...]

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Out of the Past: A Possible Solution to China’s Labor Woes

October 3, 2012

The history of company towns in the United States featured many labor battles fought over intertwined issues of wages and living conditions. So it was in Pullman, Ill., where in 1894 a strike broke out over wage cuts–and high rents at company-owned housing. Such incidents out of the American past shed light on last week’s [...]

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The Grasshopper, the Ant–and Romney’s 47%

September 23, 2012

  From our early years, many of us learned about the perils of sloth and the rewards of industry from the Aesop’s fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” You remember:  The grasshopper idles away the summer and pays the penalty when winter comes; meanwhile, the ant, who has spent the same period toiling and accumulating, [...]

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TO: John Bohner, Mitt Romney, etc. FROM: A.J. Liebling

July 19, 2012

Herewith, an excerpt from an A.J. Liebling essay, written in 1942 for The New Yorker, anticipating the coming defeat of Fascism: The coming victory of the forces of enlightenment “made me personally, extremely and perhaps unreasonably happy. Millions of men meriting better than I have lived and died in humiliating periods of history. Free men [...]

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The Earl of Romney? It Has a Certain Ring….

February 7, 2012

Two images of wealth are currently top-of-mind for much of the U.S. public: One is that embodied by Mitt Romney–a successful and admirable businessman…or a loathsome representative of the parasitical 1%, depending on your point of view. The other is that of the fictional, wealthy, and paternalistic Crawley clan of Britain, protagonists of PBS’s enthusiastically [...]

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The Four Things Everybody Wants

January 5, 2012

Seventy-one years ago this week, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt articulated four fundamental rights that he believed all peoples should enjoy. The Four Freedoms, said FDR, should be goals for every post-World War II society: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. His analysis was the hallmark of that year’s [...]

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How Corporate America Conquered the Suburbs

October 21, 2011

Who can stand the city? It’s all noise, dirt, and hassles. In 1942, the Bell Labs division of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. declared it had had enough and was relocating to the suburbs. Over a few decades, this path-breaking move would set off a corporate stampede. Purchasing 213 acres of rural land in Union [...]

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