Making Monte Carlo
A History of Speculation and Spectacle
Simon and Schuster 2016
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books Network March 9, 2017 Roxanne Panchesi
Mark Braude’s Making Monte Carlo: A History of Speculation and Spectacle (Simon and Schuster, 2016) tells the captivating story of the rise of Monte Carlo as Europe’s most famous casino-resort from the second half of the nineteenth century to the end of the 1920s. In a series of fascinating chapters, Braude takes readers through the history of this modern, luxury playground, from the legalization of gambling in Monaco in 1855, through a rise of the site in the decades that followed, a period of decline after the First World War, and a revival during the Jazz Age of the interwar years.
Throughout, Making Monte Carlo follows the lives of individuals, families, companies, and a larger network of player-consumers, workers, and witnesses. Center-stage are the members of the Blanc family who first opened Le Grand Casino de Monte Carlo in 1858 and controlled the Societe des bains de mers (SBM). The SBM is Braude’s main archival source for the inside story of casino plans, management, and operations. The book also engages the lives and interests of the Grimaldis, the dynasty that presided over the tiny principality that became a haven for gaming and entertainments, a center of risk and adventure, of fantasy and speed. And then there are those who came to game, to work, to be entertained, and to watch. A number of participants would tell their stories, contributing to a mythologizing that made of Monte Carlo a destination whose imaginative dimensions exceeded by far its physical area.
Making Monte Carlo is at once a history of commercial and business interests and of the rapid and remarkable changes in modern culture that took place in the period covered by Braude’s chapters. This was an era of the proliferation of mass spectacle, of advertising and marketing, of innovations in the technologies of leisure, recreation, transport, and tourism. It was an age that saw the emergence of new forms of capitalist exploitation and imagination, of transformations in the idea of selling and in the selling of ideas. Considering the impact of Monte Carlo’s development on tourists rich and less-so, on the workers who made the casinos, hotels, and clubs run, and on all those (in Monaco and beyond its small territory) who witnessed the spectacle as it unfolded, the book will be a compelling read to anyone interested in the place itself, as well as all those cultural dreams it has sought to encourage and represent since its inauguration as a high-end, high-stakes capital.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. A historian of culture and politics in the twentieth century, her current research focuses on the representation of nuclear weapons and testing in France since 1945. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email.
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