Dawn of the Belle Époque has a cast of hundreds, but because many of them are well known, including Zola, Monet, Marie Curie, Gustave Eiffel, Debussy, and Sarah Bernhardt, it’s not hard to keep track of them. Details of individual lives are reported, I learned for instance that Degas was petulant, conservative and stubborn, but the book also has a broader scope. Almost every year from 1870 to 1900 has its own chapter, covering the politics, personalities, mood and culture of Paris as it moved toward the new century. While some aspects of the Belle Époque were not so belle/beautiful, notably the Dreyfus affair, it’s a fascinating era. A hundred years after the French Revolution, France was still deeply divided. Republican heirs of the revolution clashed with anarchists, and they both brawled, sometimes literally, with citizens who wanted a powerful Catholic Church and a return to rule by the monarchy or an heir of Napoleon. The back of the book has sources notes and a bibliography.