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Buenos Aires: The Biography of a City

James Gardner, an art and culture critic, has created a loving history of a memorable metropolis in Buenos Aires: The Biography of a City. Often called "the Paris of the South," Buenos Aires was founded by a few dozen Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. Gardner details how it eventually achieved its modern status as a bustling, cosmopolitan capital.

The residents of Buenos Aires, known as porteños, long struggled to thrive under strict Spanish laws, and when Napoleon ousted the Spanish king in 1810, the porteños saw their chance for independence. There was little architecture of note, so they emulated European style as the city boomed, making Buenos Aires quite different architecturally from most other Spanish colonial cities.

Gardner discusses the effects of several dictators who ruled in Argentina--most notably Juan Manuel de Rosas and Juan Perón--and how their despotism has left lingering marks on the culture of Buenos Aires, with a dearth of creativity during the years of their rule.

What makes Buenos Aires stand out is the attention Gardner pays to the details. He discusses the sizing of city blocks, why the grid was laid out the way it was, and how the corners of intersections are blunted into ochavas, making a porteño street corner stand out from almost any other intersection in the world.

Historians, architects, city planners and armchair travelers are sure to enjoy Buenos Aires. Including many photographs taken by Gardner himself, the book is a glimpse into a lively, modern city, with a long and fascinating past. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm