Chez Soi

Adventures of a Year Abroad

Getting Closer to History

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Several months ago, I was reading some US author talk about “Lessons from The Eiffel Tower”. In it, he said, “it was designed at home, on the kitchen table…by someone who didn’t get their name on it, and that it had never been done before.”

Which is, at best, an oversimplification. (But, mostly, it’s just plain wrong.)

That same window of time, I was reading Paris the Novel by Ed Rutherford. It’s a fictional book that weaves both fictional stories and real history, over the course of hundreds of years based in Paris. While I found the book tedious at times (especially the back half), one story I loved was the building of the Tour Eiffel through the eyes of two brothers, Thomas and Luc Gascon.

The novel, even though partly fictional, tells some history of the Tour Eiffel.
That it was designed by by Gustave Eiffel, who had designed and built tons of things by the time he got to design the now historic icon. The thing any local will tell you is that Gustave had designed many things before this. They might mention the “Les Halles” in Dijon. Dijon is the birthplace of moutarde (mustard), and this covered marketplace was built in the mid-1800s. Or they might mention that Gustave designed and created the framework inside the Statue of Liberty, a gift to the US from the people of France in 1886, which was an engineering feat. Eiffel graduated from the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1855 as a civil engineer and specialized in metalwork. Initially, he made his name designing bridges for the French railway network, and some of his bridges are still around. And, so later  —  because of his already great understanding of engineering a particularly specific form-factor, and his understanding of metalwork for construction at scale — he got picked to design, build and is now known for his iconic piece de resistance, the Eiffel Tower, in 1889.
We’re planning/hoping to go to Dijon and Les Halles while there, sometime soon, when Daughter #1 is in town for Christmas.
In thinking of Dijon, it reminded me of Gustave’s history and I started to wonder… do these seemingly smart people intentionally over-simplifying global stories, for their own marketing type purposes. Or do they really not know any better?

Author: nilofermerchant

Strategist. Passionate about igniting cultures of innovation. HBR Writer, O'Reilly Author (published January 2010) of The New How, and former CEO of Rubicon.

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