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The Flaneur (Writer and the City)

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,002 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Bloomsbury is proud to announce the first title in an occasional series in which some of the world's finest novelists reveal the secrets of the city they know best. These beautifully produced, pocket-sized books will provide exactly what is missing in ordinary travel guides: insights and imagination that lead the reader into those parts of a city no other guide can reach.

Hardcover, 211 pages
Published March 21st 2001 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 1st 2001)
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44th out of 366 books — 407 voters
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Community Reviews

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Ian Heidin[+]Fisch
The Flaneur

I first became familiar with the word “Flaneur” when a collection of Walter Benjamin’s writings called “The Arcade Projects” was published in 1999.

It included a 1929 review called “The Return of the Flâneur”.

In it, Benjamin speculates on the significance of the “Flaneur”, a French word meaning “stroller” or “saunterer”.

It describes someone who walks the street, apparently idly, not intending to simply get from point A to point B, but seeking more to observe and experience the street a
Eddie Watkins
Read this little book yesterday on the bus as I was on my way to and from NY to see the Morandi show at the Met and the Eggleston show at the Whitney. Even as I was nodding off on the way back, with the Chipmunks movie loudly broadcast throughout the bus, I couldn't put it down.

The flaneur premise was an ingenious way for White to write anything he felt like about Paris. As I was reading it I could envision a whole flaneur series of books of not only every city in the world but any thing any per
Ahhh. So nice to read a master of the sentence. My only problem with this is that it's unifying principle, flaneury, doesn't really unify it. I couldn't put it down though. He's a master of the essay. Also, it purports to be a book about a city (Paris). It is more a book of spotty, thematically organized artistic and sexual histories. Graceful and hilarious. Anecdotal, well-researched, a dessert book.
Michael William West
Interesting enough, a few curious essays mixed in with standard 'Paris' filler (the Commune, Dreyfus, Josephine Baker etc. etc.) that anyone who's been in Paris more than a week will hear about soon enough. Although it's insightful on the behaviour and social structure of the Parisians, Edmund White can't resist filtering everything through his political perspective: a mild centre-left view typical of his generation with apologist tones for the accumulation of personal wealth. This gets tiresome ...more
My dream has always been to be a flanneur in Paris and through this book I have been, several times or more. No joking: I love to walk the streets of the city (as a New Yorker, I guess I'm more Alfred Kazin but as a dreamer-who HAS been to Paris-I'm a flanneur and I live in the 1920's on the Left Bank. Edmund White is a lush writer and his style matches his subject here perfectly. If you love Paris, at least in your dreams, you'll always have it here.
Jul 18, 2011 Naftoli rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: fun
Wow, I just finished this book yesterday. Roslyn Raney gave it to me as a gift in 2008,I was not interested in reading it then but happened to pull it off my bookshelf two weeks ago and it has been a fun ride. I have never been to Paris but this book gave me a birds's eye view from so many perspectives as the flaneur is apparently a person who strolls about observing the intricacies of public life. The author, Edmund White, is an American who lived in Paris for many years. He describes Paris bas ...more
I started this book about 6 months ago and enjoyed the rolling erudition of the narrative. But when I set it down I didn't rush to find it and finish it. When I pulled it from a stack yesterday I knew I had to read it all and get a sense of the arc. The writing is twice as good as I remembered it and the gossip about arts in Paris is unbeatable, with news about James Baldwin and Gertrude Stein and Marie Antoinette--and her heirs. There are quotes too from French intellects like Balzac and de Bea ...more
Aleksandr Voinov
2.5 stars. There doesn't seem to be a Kindle version of the book. Bought it for bookclub read tomorrow. (Mostly because I'm setting my current novel in Paris.)
Susie Bright
I was on a book tour in the 80s at the same time the author Edmund White was touring his "State of Desire," and we appeared in a few common events. I remember thinking this was my favorite contemporary look at gay life in America I had read to date. Now... all these years later, I get ready to go the Paris, with an armful of "guides," and White's book on the art of the "flaneuse" is heaven-sent. He has a way of capturing a city and its community and history like no other. You just can't put it d ...more
I chose this book from the title alone, and it lived up to the expectations. Like the flaneur himself, this book ambles gently and easily through Paris in all it's modes - historical, "current" (at least based on the author's term there in the 80s), philosophical, and cultural. He treats the less attractive sides of living in Paris with the same matter-of-fact curiosity as it's more delightful. A great book for those who know and love Paris, or those who want to visit vicariously and see a side ...more
A trifle I breezed through last night and this morning; but even the least of Edmund White is worth the read. I've always liked how he embraces the seaminess and the poignance of any human scene. He's lurid and wise at once, relishing the dirty details while telling you how brave and beautiful human desire is. So an ideal travel writer, really. His 'States of Desire: Travels in Gay America' is out of print; snatch it up if you stumble across a copy.
I enjoyed a trip back into some of the more specific history of Paris: Jews, minorities, art, architecture. My love of Paris is not unknown to anyone who knows me. I could spend hours being a “Flaneur” in this city. Just walking aimlessly down streets where there is not a tourist in sight. This history of Paris is so rich and continues to amaze me. One of the reasons that I read this book is that I’m planning a trip next year again to my favourite city.
I flew through this small book in a few hours and very much enjoyed it. Having recently been to Paris, it was a nice accoutrement for remembering certain impressions and neighborhoods, and a reminder that to actually experience Paris takes not days or months but years. Stories of families, artists, kings, politicians, noblemen and whores, and the neighborhoods attached to their histories, told in White's remarkable prose. Worth the read.
Aug 27, 2009 Emmy is currently reading it
Yes, another book I am reading along with the other ones. It's best to read this on the subway, not in bed before sleep. It's possible that I'll somehow begin to like Baudelaire, whom White mentions, after reading this book.
I bought this because of the title, I love the idea of being a flaneur and histories of shopping and department stores often refer to Balzac's works about wandering around Paris. Also because the cove is absolutely beautiful. It wasn't as poetic or geographical as I expected, but it was still very interesting. White muses on Parisian literary figures, the black, Jewish and gay stories of Paris, and royalists/monarchists, not physically wandering but pottering about in the city's history, I guess ...more
If this book had an index, this would be a four-star review.
Zöe Yu
I found all the chapters are reluctantly "linked" to the theme "Flanêur" except the first chapter.. In the beginning, the author mentioned Walter Benjamin and several of his quotes regarding to the concept, but that's it. The following chapters are about Blacks, Jews and Gays. Within the chapters, the author goes back to his familiar autobiographical way of writing, which cannot even be called "loosely" related to Flanêur. Once in a while, the author mention "Baudelaire", but again, no to the po ...more

“For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate observer, it’s an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity, in whatever’s seething, moving, evanescent and infinite: you’re not at home, but you feel at home everywhere, you see everyone, you’re at the center of everything yet you remain hidden from everybody…The amateur of life enters into the crowd as into an immense reservoir of electricity.”

-Charles Baudelaire

The flâneur in Edmund White’s novel of the sa
Flânerie as explicated by Edmund White is less about actual locomotion than the exploratory urge, the quest to investigate the cracks within the city, specifically Paris. He details the flâneur as a distinctly Parisian creation, drawing upon the city's nuances and dichotomies, its ethnic character, literary and artistic traditions, and the nature of the Parisians themselves.

This is not a book about walking in Paris, and yet, that is all it concerns. The stroll White takes us on touches upon a g
Aptly subtitled “A Stroll though the Paradoxes of Paris”, White’s first travelogue –according to my recollection, as all of his work I’ve read to date have been fiction – meanders its way through Paris past and present A virtual mind-walk through the City of Lights, this is. He starts off this slender volume (best read on a rainy weekend afternoon) by criticizing the current state of Gallic affairs.

"…Paris itself has become a cultural backwater. There aren’t more than two or three internationall
Alfredo Ruiz
I was fortunate to have been given this book as a gift from my amazing boss, the day I left for Paris. However, it was unfortunate that I didn't read most of on the plane, before I landed. My time in Paris would not have been any less enjoyable, but it would have been more insightful and quaint. That's pretty much how I found The Flaneur. Not to diminish the visible work and research that Edmund White put into this short piece of non-fiction, but White saunters through the history and streets of ...more
Seamus Thompson

Quick, fascinating meditation on Paris by a long-time resident, American writer Edmund White. White knows his subject and does a nice job balancing more informative passages with lively anecdotes and observations. The chapter on the reception of minorities over the years is particularly fascinating (American blacks were generally well-received but anti-semitism has long been a problem). Equally fascinating is a chapter about the treatment of gays: anti-sodomy laws were banned in 1791, a protecti
Oct 21, 2009 Jim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: france
For anyone who is interested in that masterpiece of cities, Paris, I highly recommend this little book. It is highly selective, deliberately highlighting places that do not typically appear in guidebooks. The majority of the book deals with several disparate groups of people who have found refuge in the City of Lights: (1) Afro-Americans; (2) Jews; (3) gays; and (4) royalists and/or monarchists. There is also a chapter dedicated to the Musée Gustave Moreau on the Right Bank and the Hôtel de Lauz ...more
Rebekah ODell
The bottom line might be that I'm just not very good at non-fiction. Memoir is the exception, but probably only because it reads like fiction. In The Flaneur, White takes readers through dark corners and forgotten alley-ways of Paris -- through scandal, through decay, and through memory. For a particularly passionate francophile, this might be an ideal book, as White presents things that the average American visiting Paris would never see or know. He discusses how race has changed in Paris, how ...more
Sep 21, 2008 Eleanor rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Francophiles who want some content
This booked surprised me in a good way. When I picked it up I thought it would be another one of those sentimental pieces about how amazing Paris is. It is, sort of, but Edmund White is closely attuned to the contradictions of French society and the social and political injustices that have shaped it and shaped Paris. This becomes the book's strength, because it's not what you expect a piece called "The Flaneur" to be about. In fact, Paris the city hardly figures at all in some chapters, but pro ...more
A bit pretentious and often unintentionally intimidating--the title is a forewarning in and of itself: who "strolls" through paradoxes, non? Yet, "The Flaneur" is one of the most fascinating books written on the teeming vibrancy of Paris if simply because it addresses what so, so many books on Paris do not: how much of that vibrancy is due to outsider/borderland culture, not native Parisians, and where traces of that culture can still be found. Much of White's descriptions of blacks, gays, Jews, ...more
I was hoping it would be more of a study of the character of the flaneur through history but it was mainly a view of Paris through a gay writers lens of the gay and black history in France. I did like pieces of the story about the differences between American versus French receptions of African writers and musicians in particular. In short - it was not what I expected but there were some nice segments. Good writings style as well - colloquial but keenly observant as well.
I just finished another book on Paris (Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin) that I didn't like and this book was a good antidote. Baldwin's book is poorly written--full of awkward phrasings and transitions as well as unsympathetic characters. White, by contrast, is a very fine writer who manages to offer some fresh summaries of the lives of numerous well-known Parisian historical personnages (Colette, Baudelaire, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, etc). I would have li ...more
Josh Hogan
Quite an interesting concept: someone not from Paris, but who knows it like the back of their hand, strolls around its streets and lets the reader into some of its secrets. I was hoping to be a lot more entertained by this than I was. I don't know if it's the author's meandering style, the lack of clear structure and theme in the chapters, or just the people he chose to talk about that didn't capture me.
White wonders as he wanders the streets of Paris - educating us and acquainting us with historical background of his favorite city. He explores many of the unique museums and recounts some interesting historical moments that have shaped the city.
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Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and A Married Man. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, and, most recently, his memoir, My Lives. Having lived in Paris for many years, he is now a New Yorker and teaches at Princeton University. He was also a membe ...more
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A Boy's Own Story The Beautiful Room is Empty The Married Man Jack Holmes and His Friend The Farewell Symphony

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