Becoming Americans in Paris: Transatlantic Politics and Culture between the World Wars

By Professor Brooke L. Blower

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Americans often look back on Paris between the world wars as a charming escape from the enduring inequalities and reactionary politics of the United States. In this bold and original study, Brooke Blower shows that nothing could be further from the truth. She reveals 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 the most famous expatriate artists and writers- 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 smoldering with radical and reactionary plots, suffused with noise, filth, and chaos, teeming with immigrants and refugees, communist rioters, fascism 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. 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 “anti-American” protests during the Sacco-Vanzetti affair as well as a host of other international incidents. Blower carefully depicts how these controversies and a backdrop of polarized European politics honed Americans’ political stances and sense of national distinctiveness.

A model of urban, transnational history, Becoming Americans in Paris 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.


“This readable and enlightening volume enriches our understanding of the fabled American migration.” —Journal of American History

“Cultural and political transnational history comes alive through Blower’s engaging presentation of facts and analysis, accompanied by extensive notes and a comprehensive bibliography.” —French Review

“Blower writes well, engaging the reader with evocative details…Becoming Americans in Paris is a valuable contribution to understanding the conflicts and tensions involved in transnational exchanges and in the internationalization of America.” —The Journal of World History

“Practically anyone interested in Paris in the 1920s…should find this well-written and thoroughly researched view of the other side of ‘Gay Paree’ informative and stimulating.” —American Historical Review

“This intriguing read comes highly recommended. The author analyzes America’s connection to Paris during the interwar years from new perspectives, undermining common perceptions of “Gay Paree” as a refuge for carefree Americas, instead casting the City of Lights as an urban landscape where a range of cultural adn politicized intercations occured between a central location for the construction of an American identity through political culture.” —The Historian

“An excellent example of what transnational history ought to be .An illuminating, elegantly written, and extremely worthwhile enterprise.” —Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Blower’s new portrait of Americans in interwar Paris replaces Impressionist nostalgia with the sharp lights and shadows of an edgy Expressionist scene. With deft strokes based on deep and inventive research, this arresting narrative puts political disputes and class confrontations up close to café haunts, showing Paris locales testing and honing American sojourners’ sense of self and nationhood.”-Nancy F. Cott, Harvard University

Becoming Americans in Paris is a marvelous rethinking of the shopworn cliché about the mythic and restorative qualities of Paris in the 1920s. With rich and compelling prose, Brooke L. Blower rethinks the oft-romanticized story of Americans in the postwar City of Light, emphasizing the frenetic scale of social networking, the angry depths of political passions, and the cultural significance of transatlantic confrontation. Entering Paris and becoming American, she argues, were closely related, hotly debated experiences, both for the New World colonists who elbowed their way into a wrecked European city and assumed a stance of superiority, and for the Parisians who often unhappily received their American guests. This is a model of transnational history.”-Matthew Pratt Guterl, Indiana University

“Going beyond Hemingway’s famous evocation of Americans in Paris, Brooke Blower gives us a larger and previously unknown story. Her account, built from Parisian archives, describes a semi-cloistered American colony embedded in a Paris that is not so gay: devastated by war, politically contentious, but cheap for those with American dollars, a source of Parisian resentment. Focused on specific Franco-American confrontations, this analysis of ‘offshore’ America illuminates what it meant to be an American of a certain class in the 1920s-and Parisian.”- Thomas Bender, author of New York Intellect

“Until Brooke Blower’s book, scholars have not fully appreciated the complex, intertwined histories of Americans and the city of Paris between the World Wars. She fundamentally revises the concept of ‘expatriation’ for students of American and French history by reframing this trans-Atlantic cultural exchange as a two-way street. Through exhaustive research solidly grounded in the histories of both countries and a beautifully written narrative, Blower deftly demonstrates how only in Paris could Americans become ‘Americans’ in the modern sense of that term, and how the City of Light was thoroughly changed by their presence.”-Jeffrey H. Jackson, Rhodes College

“Brooke L. Blower has presented a brilliant work of engaged historiography, revealed previously hidden layers, and opened up new perspectives on a historical era of upheaval .She has revealed the buried layers of Paris between the World Wars and demystified the false and campy romanticization of Paris.”–SuKuLTuR

Becoming Americans in Paris is an important book and adds an extra dimension to what we know about the city and the Americans who spend time there. Jim Burns, The Northern Review of Books

“An excellent example of what transnational history ought to beEL.An illuminating, elegantly written, and extremely worthwhile enterprise.” -Martha Hanna, Journal of Interdisciplinary History