Paris’ legendary American bookseller dies

George Whitman has died. He was 98.

You may not know his name but if you speak English and have ever visited Paris you probably know his bookshop: Shakespeare & Co.

Whitman set up the shop in 1951. He was one of a generation of Americans — mostly ex GIs on the GI bill — who went to Paris after World War II and tried to re-start the party that made the French capital the center of western culture in the ’20s and ’30s, the place where the Hemingway and Fitzgerald legends were born.

The Paris Review was started. William Styron, Norman Mailer, James Jones, George Plimpton, humorist Art Buchwald and jazz musicians too numerous to mention moved back. There were so many Americans in the city that M-G-M made a Gene Kelly musical about ex-patriot life called “An American in Paris” the year Whitman opened his shop.  It won the Best Picture Oscar.

By the mid-1950′s though it was clear the party was over and New York was the place where cutting edge culture was being created. Paris was something of a perfectly preserved museum of an era comprehensively demolished by war. Most of the ex-pats headed home.

George Whitman stuck it out. In the golden days of Paris there had been an English language bookshop called Shakespeare and Company. It was run by an American woman named Sylvia Beach. It was more than a place to sell books. Beach was a patron of writers, most famously James Joyce. She effectively edited and published Ulysses. But her shop had not survived the disruption of the war....

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