Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris [NOOK Book]

Overview

The New York Times bestseller: the secrets of the City of Light, revealed in the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten—by the author of the acclaimed The Discovery of France.


This is the Paris you never knew. From the Revolution to the present, Graham Robb has distilled a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger ...

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Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

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Overview

The New York Times bestseller: the secrets of the City of Light, revealed in the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten—by the author of the acclaimed The Discovery of France.


This is the Paris you never knew. From the Revolution to the present, Graham Robb has distilled a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger than fiction, of the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten.



A young artillery lieutenant, strolling through the Palais-Royal, observes disapprovingly the courtesans plying their trade. A particular woman catches his eye; nature takes its course. Later that night Napoleon Bonaparte writes a meticulous account of his first sexual encounter. A well-dressed woman, fleeing the Louvre, takes a wrong turn and loses her way in the nameless streets of the Left Bank. For want of a map—there were no reliable ones at the time—Marie-Antoinette will go to the guillotine.



Baudelaire, the photographer Marville, Baron Haussmann, the real-life Mimi of La Boheme, Proust, Adolf Hitler touring the occupied capital in the company of his generals, Charles de Gaulle (who is suspected of having faked an assassination attempt in Notre Dame)—these and many more are Robb’s cast of characters, and the settings range from the quarries and catacombs beneath the streets to the grand monuments to the appalling suburbs ringing the city today. The result is a resonant, intimate history with the power of a great novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Sims
[Robb] is an encyclopedia of French history. But this is no ordinary history book. Although the form varies—one chapter, for example, is presented as a film script—the book is a series of character portraits in chronological order, evolving into a rich and layered history of one of the great mythological cities of the world…Charles Dickens once complained that an essay lacked "the elegant play of fancy." Robb could never be accused of this shortcoming. His fancy plays across Parisian history, darting down every alley and into the minds of kings, novelists and painters.
—The Washington Post
Dwight Garner
…a pointillist and defiantly nonlinear history of Paris from the dawn of the French Revolution through the 2005 riots in Clichy-sous-Bois, told from a variety of unlikely perspectives and focusing on lesser-known but reverberating moments in the city's history…Mr. Robb's prose is fleet and ingenious…His good humor is infectious.
—The New York Times
Brenda Wineapple
Although Robb often narrates various sections from the point of view of his characters, inhabiting them and fudging, to a certain extent, the line between traditional history and make-believe, his characters don't sound alike, which can be a hazard when a historian affects the pose of a novelist. Robb claims he wrote with "a flavor of the time in mind," and insists he didn't insert anything artificial into his stories. That Parisians required as much research as his earlier, more conventionally structured book The Discovery of France is evident on every page. Yet if Parisians resembles Simon Schama's Dead Certainties, which is also about the limits of historical knowledge, Robb, in employing the techniques of the novelist, animates his characters mainly for "the pleasure of thinking about Paris." That pleasure is also the reader's.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
This audiobook version of Graham Robb's volume of strange-but-true Parisian narratives offers listeners a fascinating history that is frequently encumbered by heavy-handed, often overblown narration from Simon Vance. Robb offers a series of bizarre tales that touch on everything from the first sexual experience of Napoleon Bonaparte to the creation of the Catacombes de Paris, but Vance narrates as if all of Parisian history is weighing on him: his reading is too grand, overly inflated, and pompous, his French accent frequently fails to ring true, and it simply sounds as if he is trying too hard to narrate what should have been an intriguing and charming audiobook. A Norton hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 1). (May)
Philip Hensher - Daily Telegraph
“Ingenious...Marvelously entertaining, boundlessly energetic and original...This book is the sort of triumph that we have no right to expect to come from anyone in the steady way that Robb's masterly books come from him.”
Dwight Garner - The New York Times
“[Robb] has proved himself to be one of the more unusual and appealing historians currently striding the planet. In a better world his books would be best sellers everywhere....His book—argumentative, gallant, parked athwart oncoming historical traffic, as if on a dare—is as Parisian and as bracing as a freshly mixed Pernod and water.”
John Carey - The Times [London]
“Graham Robb's new book is so richly pleasurable that you feel it might emit a warm glow if you left it in a dark room. Essentially it is a collection of true stories, culled from Robb's insatiable historical reading and lit by his imagination. He has the passion of a naturalist displaying a wall of rare butterflies or a cabinet of exotic corals, but his specimens are all human and walked the streets of Paris at some point between the French revolution and now...[A] generous and humane book.”
Brenda Wineapple - The New York Times Book Review
“Robb, in employing the techniques of the novelist, animates his characters mainly for 'the pleasure of thinking about Paris.' That pleasure is also the reader's.”
From the Publisher
"Simon Vance narrates the history with an eloquent British-accented voice that leaves room for human moments and humor.... The strong sense of place in Robb's descriptions may make listeners feel like they're visiting the City of Lights." —-AudioFile
Daily Telegraph - Philip Hensher
“Ingenious...Marvelously entertaining, boundlessly energetic and original...This book is the sort of triumph that we have no right to expect to come from anyone in the steady way that Robb's masterly books come from him.”
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
“[Robb] has proved himself to be one of the more unusual and appealing historians currently striding the planet. In a better world his books would be best sellers everywhere....His book—argumentative, gallant, parked athwart oncoming historical traffic, as if on a dare—is as Parisian and as bracing as a freshly mixed Pernod and water.”
The Times [London] - John Carey
“Graham Robb's new book is so richly pleasurable that you feel it might emit a warm glow if you left it in a dark room. Essentially it is a collection of true stories, culled from Robb's insatiable historical reading and lit by his imagination. He has the passion of a naturalist displaying a wall of rare butterflies or a cabinet of exotic corals, but his specimens are all human and walked the streets of Paris at some point between the French revolution and now...[A] generous and humane book.”
The New York Times Book Review - Brenda Wineapple
“Robb, in employing the techniques of the novelist, animates his characters mainly for 'the pleasure of thinking about Paris.' That pleasure is also the reader's.”
Newsday
“Robb’s stylish and stylized tale of the town turns you into a sightseer, visiting the past, uncovering what time has hidden and observing anew what’s there. It’s a tantalizing tour. Robb wanders but is never lost.”
Daily Telegraph
Ingenious...Marvelously entertaining, boundlessly energetic and original...This book is the sort of triumph that we have no right to expect to come from anyone in the steady way that Robb's masterly books come from him.— Philip Hensher
The Times [London]
Graham Robb's new book is so richly pleasurable that you feel it might emit a warm glow if you left it in a dark room. Essentially it is a collection of true stories, culled from Robb's insatiable historical reading and lit by his imagination. He has the passion of a naturalist displaying a wall of rare butterflies or a cabinet of exotic corals, but his specimens are all human and walked the streets of Paris at some point between the French revolution and now...[A] generous and humane book.— John Carey
The New York Times
[Robb] has proved himself to be one of the more unusual and appealing historians currently striding the planet. In a better world his books would be best sellers everywhere....His book—argumentative, gallant, parked athwart oncoming historical traffic, as if on a dare—is as Parisian and as bracing as a freshly mixed Pernod and water.— Dwight Garner
The Independent
“A superior historical guidebook for the unhurried traveler, and altogether a book to savor.”
The New York Times Book Review
Robb, in employing the techniques of the novelist, animates his characters mainly for 'the pleasure of thinking about Paris.' That pleasure is also the reader's.— Brenda Wineapple
Library Journal
To Whitbread Book Award-winning biographer Robb (Victor Hugo), Paris is clearly "a miraculous creation where even the quietest street is crowded with adventures." Serious Francophiles who share his point of view may enjoy this quirky journey through time and space. Part history, part travelog, part "Ripley's Believe It or Not!," this creative historical geography takes us on a tour of Paris via a series of chronologically arranged vignettes stretching from the eve of the Revolution of 1789 to the present. Through the use of rich imagery, masterly attention to detail, and basically good storytelling, the book records a series of moments and meetings when characters both obscure and famous interacted with key landmarks like the Palais Royal, Notre Dame, or Place de la Concorde. Robb artfully re-creates the drama and turmoil of key events like the bloody horrors of the Commune, De Gaulle's triumphant 1944 entry into Paris, or the tumultuous student demonstrations of May 1968. This is not history as such but a creative montage of how history, individuals, and geography intersected at key moments in Paris. The results may interest those who share "the pleasure of thinking about Paris." VERDICT For serious Francophiles or large, specialized collections in French history and culture.—Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J.
The Barnes & Noble Review

What bookstore doesn't offer numerous new volumes with Paris in the title? Thus the inevitable question arises when handed a book such as Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris:"So?"

Parisians is an odd book. Its chapters tell stories, in rough chronological order, of people who have lived in the City of Light, but this is no "Who's Who" of Parisians. Graham Robb describes it as a "history of Paris recounted by many different voices"; it's a history primarily in the sense that the narratives are true, though told in novelistic fashion. And Robb's book details the lives of a strange collection of people, from future presidents to dictators, courtesans, and criminals.

The stories themselves were clearly chosen less for their historical significance than for their queerness, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. The tale of how a young Napoleon lost his virginity to a courtesan, contrasted with his relentless persecution of such women later in life, makes up one chapter. Another examines how Queen Marie Antoinette's carriage got so lost on the Left Bank that the delay resulted in her capture in Sainte-Menehould, when a postmaster's son recognized the king from his face on a coin.

Such odd stories could only take place in a city as large and as historically rich as the French capital. Robb has an eye for detail that turns the most banal subject into an excursion into lived experience: his detailed investigation of a photograph from 1865, for example, leads to the assertion that "So much information is contained in that split-second burst of photons that if the glass plate survived a holocaust and lay buried for centuries in a leather satchel, there would be enough to compile a small, speculative encyclopedia of Paris in the late second millennium." Or we could just put this book in a time capsule and hang onto it.

What makes the collection work is Robb's novelistic sense, his feeling for plot and the rhythm of language. The fact that the stories he tells are true is an additional pleasure, but not one surmounted by this chapter opening: "As far as anyone knew, the head had last been seen in the attics of the École de Médecine. It was an unusual item, not the sort of thing that would have been easily mislaid or confused with something else."

And the stories themselves are unforgettable. I was fascinated by the tale of how Madame Émile Zola discovered her husband's infidelity and summoned the courage to create an unusual family (with 21th-century outlines) with real kindness and without rancor. Likewise, Hitler's visit to Paris, juxtaposed with the experiences of Jewish children during the war, kept me awake thinking about the kinds of facts we label history. Another chapter tells how Senator François Mitterrand won fame in 1959 (some twenty-two years before being elected president of France) as a leading champion of the fight against right-wing terrorism, after he survived an assassination attempt -- only to be exposed as a fraud who made up the bogus assassination himself. Not for the first time, I found myself thinking, "Who knew?"

Frankly, these stories often read as if O. Henry had been let loose in the Paris archives. I like reading O. Henry's stories, and I daresay that most people curious about history, Paris, or mysterious tales will love this book. Like Paris itself, it's intoxicating, and hard to leave behind.

--Mary Bly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393079289
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/11/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 294,192
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Graham Robb is the author of three prize-winning biographies, each one selected as New York Times Best Books. His most recent works, The Discovery of France and Parisians, have earned several awards and much acclaim between them. He lives on the Anglo-Scottish border.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Map

Departure 1

One Night at the Palais-Royal 7

The Man Who Saved Paris 25

Lost 43

Restoration 61

Files of the Surete 91

A Property in Bohemia 113

Marville 135

Regression 157

Madame Zola 175

Marcel in the Metro 199

The Notre-Dame Equation 217

A Little Tour of Paris 247

Occupation 269

Lovers of Saint-Germain-des-Pres 285

The Day of the Fox 315

Expanding the Domain of the Possible 347

Peripherique 381

Sarko, Bouna and Zyed 403

Terminus: The North Col 423

Chronology 437

Sources 447

Index of Paris and Conurbation 463

General Index 471

Acknowledgements 477

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