Emile Zola’s father, François Zola, was a Venetian engineer who came to Paris in 1830, when opportunity beckoned. France having gone some way toward recuperating from the economic devastation brought about by Napoleon’s far-flung campaigns, 1830 opened an era of rapid industrial development during which factories would multiply, markets would expand, railroad lines would radiate from the capital. There were huge prizes to be won exploiting the new technology and Zola soon found investors who liked his entrepreneurial zeal. Imaginative, versatile, and tenacious in the pursuit of wealth, he could as easily devise fortifications for Paris as turn out plans for a modern port at Marseille. But until 1838, no such large venture made it past the drawing board. Against an old-boy network of French engineers whose influence reached into the ministry that sanctioned public works, a foreigner fought at unequal...


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