Monday, May 27, 2019

Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes as adapted by Rebecca Stefoff

Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes (adapted by Rebecca Stefoff)
  • ISBN-10: 1609809173 - Paperback $17.95
  • Publisher: Triangle Square (May 28, 2019), 368 pages. 
  • Grade Level: 7 - 9, Ages 12 and up
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewer's Program.

The blurb:
Weaving together the behind-the-scenes history of the Eiffel Tower with an account of the 1889 World's Fair in Paris for which the tower was built, Jonnes and Stefoff create a vibrant tableau of people and cultures meeting -- and competing.

Art, science, business, entertainment, gossip, royalty, and national pride mingle in an unforgettable portrait of a unique moment in history, when Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley became the toasts of Paris and Gustave Eiffel, builder of the tower, rose to the pinnacle of fame, only to suffer a tragic fall from grace.

Above all, the 1889 World's Fair revolved around two nations, whose potent symbols were the twin poles of the fair.  France, with its long history of sophistication and cultivation, and with a new republican government eager for the country to take its place at the forefront of the modern world, presented the Eiffel Tower - the world's tallest structure - as a symbol of national pride and engineering superiority.  The United States, with its brash, can-do spirit, full of pride in its frontier and its ingenuity, presented the rollicking Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody and the marvelous phonograph of Thomas Edison.

Eiffel, Cody, Oakley and Edison are just a few of the characters in Jonnes and Stefoff's dramatic history. There are also squabbling artists, a notorious newspaperman, and a generous sprinkling of royalty from around the world.  Some of them emerge at the close of the World's Fair of 1889 winners, some losers, but neither they nor any among the vast crowds attending the fair ever forgot what they saw there. The drama, colors, crowds and personalities that made Jonnes's bestselling adult book so fascinating and acclaimed, are all here in spades as adapted for middle grade and above by Steffof.

I ordered Eiffel's Tower in part for my niece and partly for myself.  The current Jeopardy champion James H. mentioned that he prepared for the championship by reading Young People's versions of nonfiction books because they convey the information in an engrossing manner.  Eiffel's Tower is an example of effective writing for young people.

Eiffel's Tower tells the story of the World's Fair in Paris, France in 1889, the anniversary of the French Revolution.  The French government holds a contest for a monument that will reflect France's progress and enlightenment.  Most European countries are still monarchies and most refuse to participate in the World's Fair.  The USA and France do compete and France is eager to prove its scientific prowess.

Eiffel's design is controversial and Eiffel's Tower goes into the difficulties that he faced with the engineering, the financing, and its execution. He dealt with labor strikes, with difficult weather, with vast engineering problems in the construction and even with the elevators.  Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff cover these issues clearly and without dumbing them down. Instead, she conveys information on competition, trademark, labor laws, partnership and distributorship agreements in a way that makes sense for ordinary people and for young people eager to learn.

Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff tell the story of the World's Fair through Eiffel, through Thomas Edison and his amazing technological inventions (and his disputes with his business partners) and his emphasis on self-promotion, through Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill who further enhance their reputations with the demonstrations of their shooting prowess.  But in Eiffel's Tower,  Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff do not gloss over the plight of the Native Americans that accompanied Buffalo Bill during his shows or of the workers that continued under difficult conditions to complete the Eiffel Tower in time for the opening of the World's Fair.

This is a book that shares stories and conveys information and makes another place and time come vividly alive.

About the Authors:
Jill Jonnes, who holds a PhD in American History from Johns Hopkins University, is the author previously of Eiffel's Tower, Conquering Gotham, Empires of Light, and South Bronx Rising.  Founder of the nonprofit Baltimore Tree Trust, she is leading the Baltimore City Forestry Board's new initiative, Baltimore's Flowering Tree Trails.

As a staff member of the 2010 Presidential National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, she wrote the first chapter of the report Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling.  In the fall of 2011, she was a scholar studying Trees as Green Infrastructure at teh Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. Jonnes was also named a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar and has received several grants from the Ford Foundation.  She lives in the Baltimore area.

Rebecca Stefoff has devoted her career to writing nonfiction books for young readers.  Her publications include histories, literary biographies, an encyclopedia of maps, and  numerous books on science and environmental issues.  She has also adapted a number of landmark works in history and science, including Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee, Charles C. Mann's bestselling 1493, and Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America.

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