by Otto Friedrich. HarperCollins, $28.00. Using Edouard Manet and his once-scandalous painting Olympia as a center point, Mr. Friedrich fans out to create a cultural history of Paris in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He does it in terms of artists like Degas, Monet, and Morisot, whom Manet knew; authors like Baudelaire and Zola, who defended his work; models who posed for him; and a few people like Louis Napoleon and Empress Eugénie, whom Manet never met but whose influence on their times was too strong to be ignored. There must have been quiet moments during the Second Empire, but Mr. Friedrich sensibly ignores them in favor of livelier events. The aristocratic members of the conservative Jockey Club organized something resembling an undergraduate riot to suppress performances of Tannhaüser, despite the Emperor’s support of Wagner. (Of course, the Jockey Club considered Napoleon III a vulgar parvenu.) The authorities thought Flaubert’s Madame Bovary obscene, went to law about it, and lost. When not engaged in sexual misdemeanors, the Emperor made sweeping improvements in his capital and indulged in political follies culminating in the Franco-Prussian War, the siege of Paris, and the bloody excesses of the Commune. Art critics frothed vituperation at the innovative painting of what became the Impressionist School, and the Impressionist painters argued among themselves about exhibitions. Everyone seems to have been excitable, for even Manet, usually described by his contemporaries as an exceptionally charming, amiable, witty gentleman, was subject to canvas-slashing tantrums. Mr. Friedrich reports all this ferment well, although with some perhaps unavoidable repetition and a bit too much quotation from Zola’s Nana. (Zola could be regrettably heavy-handed.) The book recreates an interesting period that clearly fascinates the author, who successfully conveys that fascination to the reader.