It was a time of upheaval: political, economic, social, artistic, scientific. Tension between the normal, historically common way of thinking and a radically new way of looking at and reacting to everyday things seemed to be everywhere. America in the 1960’s? No, it's actually Paris, France, 1870-1901, but both eras were eerily similar in many ways.
Mary McAuliffe’s book Dawn of the Belle Époque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends takes the reader on a tour of Paris using broad strokes to describe the political and social ferment following France’s crushing military defeat by Bismarck’s Prussia and the Paris Commune revolt that left a major portion of Paris in ruins following an attempt by society’s poor to redress their ills. But it was also a time of amazing depth in the arts and sciences, with the rise of the Impressionists in painting, musicians such as Ravel and Debussy changing the musical scene, and scientists like the Curies effectively changing the world.
I actually like the way the author wove the book together by using broad strokes to give an overall picture of time/place/person/event in the scheme and then went into particulars with one person/event/etc. The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor uses a similar technique but for me it didn’t work as well there. Maybe this was because of the title. I was expecting more about Klimt and his painting and instead got more on Jewish society in Vienna and the Holocaust. Still, interesting reading.