Tuesday, February 12, 2013

G32 Elihu Washburne; The Diary and Letters of America's Minister to France During the SIege and Commune of Paris

Title: Elihu Washburne; The Diary and Letters of America's Minister to France During the Siege and Commune of Paris

Author: Elihu Washburne was writer, while Michael Hill and and David McCullough were possibly editors?

First Copyright Date: Letters and diary entries were from 1870-1871, while the story was put together and published in 2012

Type of Book: France, War, history, Commune, Diplomacy, Franco-Prussian relations, Paris, Siege, 1870-1871

General Subject Matter: France, Paris 1870-1871

Special Features: There is a map of Paris in front as well as a foreword and prologue talking about Elihu Washburne's life before he went to Paris and got stranded there. There's also an index at the back as well.

Price: US: 26 dollars, Canada, 29 dollars

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6528-4

Possibility on why this subject: 

"Elihu Washburne and allt hose caught up in what happened are long gone now, of course. How many today have any idea even of when the Franco-Prussian War or the Siege of Paris or the reign of the Commune happened?...But we need to know, if only because the Franco-Prussian War was Part One of a titanic struggle between France and Germany that was to be followed by the horrors of World War I and World War II." (xxi)

Point of view:

From the background that was given about Elihu Washburne, one can say its an American point of view. Elihu basically earned his status and was not born to wealth. He acquired it on his own. Mainly its a first person narrative, but digging deeper we have someone compassionate who sticks to his duty and does his best to help the underdogs. (He helped the German women and children.) Yet when the action begins, he is wealthy and has rubbed elbows the rich and famous so to speak.

Give Information:

Personally the author was trying to give information, and I believe that in order to keep record and relieve the tedium of being shut in, he wrote in diary of what was happening as sort of a therapy for himself.

General Field or Genre/How book fits into it:

This book deals with Franco-Prussian War of 1870, as well as the aftermath of the Commune. It takes place completely in Paris and here we have records of what Parisians did when starvation was imminent as well as their blunders and failures in retaking Paris. It also how volatile people are under these conditions and their unpredictability.


The intended audience was himself. I doubt that he desired for anyone else to read his thoughts or to know his thoughts. The book is interspersed with letters to his wife and State of Secretary named Fish, but primarily its the diary of his activities in Paris as well as observations of what's going on.

Author's Style: 

The style struck me as dry and informal. The author simply recorded things and although he tried to shock me, for some odd reason my cynicism of his "never happened in history," rang false. Mostly the book focuses on war and political matters going on, or complaints about lack of what is going. Once in a while his family and how much he misses them is mentioned as well.

Suit intended Audience:

Perhaps the writing suited him, but I'm not sure about what others have thought.

Table of Contents:

This is written chronologically and if you count prologue and epilogue, its divided into eight chapters:
Prologue: Covers Elihu Washburne's life from the time he was born up until 1870.
1. War and Revolution cover the period of when France had war with Germany and they lost, causing Germany to start blockade Paris. Takes place from his arrival on July 19th, 1870 up until September 16th, 1870
2. Siege begins with September 19th, 1870 up until November 29th, 1870 and begins the downward spiral of description of life in Paris, such as loss of beauty and hopelessness and so forth.
3. Desperation and Despair begins with December 1 1870 up until January 1st, 1871 and describes more of the war and waiting for news that Elihu has to tolerate.
4. Defeat begins on January 2nd, 1871 up until January 28th, 1871 and describes more of the same, especially how Parisians begin begging for peace between France and Germany.
5. Peace begins with January 29th, 1871 up until March 21st, 1871 and has praises of other people towards Elihu as well as the fact that Prussians leave Paris in peace.
6. Reign of Terror begins with March 18th 1871 up until June 2nd, 1871 and overthrow of government as well as the revolution and killing of bishop begin to fill up the pages. There is also a war between the government in Marseilles and that of Paris. It ends in peace
Epilogue starts with June 7, 1871 and describes how Elihu was received by various friends and people who owed him their lives, then proceeded to record the rest of his life, including how he and President Grant stopped being friends and so forth. It ended with his funeral and where he is buried.

How Book affected me:

Although there were some dramatized parts, or so I felt, I was amazed at how in beginning it was all normal, then oh so slowly Paris slid in a downward spiral. I guess Parisians eating dogs and cats was not that surprising. I'm surprised that no cannibalism was mentioned of. Although I felt that the writing tended to be boring, and I still don't really see the link between this war and how from it came World War I and World War II, it was an interesting read on what its like to live under these circumstances and conditions. I have to applaud Elihu Washburne for his bravery and what he had to go through.

Achieved Goal:

I really didn't see the link between World Wars and this particular war. It would have helped if they could explain the link in more detail. What I saw was the Parisian War and that's that.

Recommend the book:

I would recommend the book for those who have to do research. Its not something that should be read for fun unless you want to see how life deteriorates under these conditions or unless you want to become more familiar with French history.


These are Elihu's letters and diary during the siege of Paris and commune of Paris from 1870 up until 1871.


This is a vital work in understanding the siege as well as the commune during the years of 1870 up until 1871.

Quick notes: I won this book on goodreads.com thus this review will appear in its entirety on goodreads as well as the blog

3 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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