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Paris: The Secret History

3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  579 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
If Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon described daily life in contemporary Paris, this book describes daily life in Paris throughout its history: a history of the city from the point of view of the Parisians themselves. Paris captures everyone's imaginations: It's a backdrop for Proust's fictional pederast, Robert Doisneau's photographic kiss, and Edith Piaf's serenaded soldi ...more
Hardcover, 485 pages
Published November 28th 2006 by Bloomsbury USA (first published July 6th 2006)
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Dec 21, 2012 Warwick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, history, paris, france
I was disappointed by this one. There are a lot of entertaining historical anecdotes in here, but somehow as a whole it doesn't quite hang together.

Part of the problem is that it wants to be more than just a factual history. Hussey says in the prologue that he is modelling the project on Peter Ackroyd's wonderful London: The Biography, but that sets the bar pretty high. He is decent when he sticks to the facts, but when he starts trying to be metaphysical, he just doesn't have Ackroyd's control,
'Aussie Rick'
Oct 21, 2011 'Aussie Rick' rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An engaging and at times humorous and dark look at the secret history of Paris, the history of this city as seen by the poor, the disposed, the criminals, the prostitutes, poets, artists and the rebels throughout this cities history.

It’s a fun romp through history and the city, travelling to places and areas known and unknown and learning some interesting aspects of the history behind those places and people. The author takes great relish in telling many of his stories, like this about a certai
Jill Hutchinson
Mar 09, 2012 Jill Hutchinson rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
If you love Paris as the City of Light, this book might change your opinion. The author digs deep into the history of the people and neighborhoods and it is not a pretty picture. He covers the city from pre-Roman times until the present day and because he has to cram a lot of history into 433 pages some events (the Revolution, Napoleon,etc.) are given short shrift. But this is a "secret" history,a social history, and not your typical history book so it is a forgivable sin. A familiarity with the ...more
Apr 10, 2014 sslyb rated it it was amazing
Shelves: france
I don't know how secret any of the book's contents are. It is a book I've been reading for many, many months. Reading it has led me to read other books and articles along the way.
Jun 13, 2010 Marcia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. This is an history of Paris from Roman times to the present focusing on the working classes, the revolutionary, the thieves, the homeless, the prostitutes, the students, the literary underground, and other people on the margins. So often history is told from the perspectives of the royalty, the nobles, and the borgeousie, and it's refreshing whenever one gets to read about the lives of everyday people. The sheer scope of the time period covered means that Hussey ...more
Sarah Finch
Jul 09, 2012 Sarah Finch rated it it was ok
Two out of five stars. This was engaging, but only fitfully so; the best chapters come at the beginning and then again towards the end. But this is nothing spectacular. Hussey commits errors in his writing (for example, alleging that Madame de Maintenon collaborated on a pornographic booklet, which is laughable) and barely acknowledges how women have lived in Paris unless it is to blame them for things (i.e. Catherine de Medici) or focus on prostitution. In fact, prostitution seems to be a major ...more
Sep 15, 2007 Tosh rated it it was amazing
This is a remarkable biography of one of my favorite cities - Paris. What makes it unique is that the author approached it via the eyes, ears, and thoughts of all the revolutionaries as well as the subversive classes/artists who made up the city. Hussy also wrote a really good Guy Debord biography. It's kind of unique because there are not that many biographies on Debord written by a foriegner. Well, at least now there are two. I am sure there will be more in the near future.
Susan Abernethy
May 16, 2016 Susan Abernethy rated it it was amazing
Link to my review of this book:
Dec 05, 2010 Jim rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
I took this to the city itself to see if I could find inspiration in either. I didn't. Well, the city was okay, but the book wasn't interesting enough to even divert me on the bus from Porte Maillot to Beauvais. And that is a boring trip. The section on the war was quite interesting, but could have done with being longer, and I couldn't get a feel for life in the city regardless of which era I dipped into. Perhaps the sweep was too big, and I bet there are five hundred page tomes dedicated to wa ...more
Apr 02, 2008 Dolores rated it it was ok
This book was alright, but I wish I had read a standard French history instead. The topics I was really interested in (like the Revolution, Napoleon, the Commune) he seemed to gloss over, since he focused more on everyday life in Paris. Also I felt like he kept saying the same thing over and over: the Parisians kept getting screwed by their government, revolting, were put down and convinced by glitz and glamour that life was ok, then got screwed again, ad infinitum. I suppose this is true, but h ...more
Ramiro Austin
Mar 16, 2016 Ramiro Austin rated it really liked it
Paris, like Mexico City, is a beautiful idea. And this idea has nothing to do with the actual city and its streets. I can’t stay in the French capital more than two or three days without feeling restless and betrayed. It’s the same feeling I get in Mexico City. Both cities have had to endure decades if not centuries of abuse and neglect by the authorities and the people who live there. Neglect in the case of Mexico City. Abuse in the case of Paris.

Another word comes to mind when I think of bot
May 30, 2009 Donna rated it really liked it
I could understand anyone finding this book boring. I did not. Rat eating, existentialism, exploding cemeteries, revolution, bring it. I don't know if any secrets were revealed. C'est la vie.
Nov 17, 2012 Fiona rated it it was amazing
Excellent history of Paris. Don't just read it before you go. Take it with you.
Michael Neiberg
Dec 20, 2013 Michael Neiberg rated it did not like it
Ugh. Boring, less than an inch deep, and factually wrong in many places.
Angela Natividad
Jan 26, 2016 Angela Natividad rated it really liked it
For the casual historian, this is a super-accessible survey of the City of Lights.

From its settlement by the Parisii, through its stint as Rome's fair Lutetia, to the present day, readers can experience the turbulent affair the city has had with its world - and, in particular, with itself.

Hussey makes a great narrator, for it's clear that, like the "true" Parisians (whores, pimps, thieves, philosophers) he captures with words, he too experiences a complex love/hate relationship with the city th
Nov 11, 2011 Hypatia rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I have mixed feelings about this book in some ways. It was an interesting overview, certainly, but there's so much that isn't said. There were many places where I wished the author could have gone into so much more detail, although of course I understand when you're covering 3000+ years of history, space is limited. At times, I felt like the author assumed a lot of knowledge about European history, and makes some somewhat tangential references to larger events, which affect Paris only tangential ...more
P.J. Adams
Jul 18, 2013 P.J. Adams rated it really liked it
I finished reading all 500+ pages of Andrew Hussey's book, as well as several interviews with him explaining how and why he wrote the book. I began reading Hussey's gargantuan tomb as background for my own book, Intoxicating Paris, which debuts this month. Interestingly, I finished writing my book while reading Hussey, and then I was able to enjoy the last half of Hussey's history without the pressure of needing to be writing myself. I often read late at night, so I feel the essence of the text ...more
Jan 31, 2016 Tessa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book improved my sense of Parisian history (and French history, connected as they are). Since it covers such a long time period, I did sometimes feel it was in the vein of history as one damn thing after another (here the anecdotes were often about whose head was getting smashed in by cobblestones), but there were delightful anecdotes throughout (Louis XI's parade of sirens, the politics of art movements, the fashions of the zazous).
Jul 31, 2014 Dan rated it it was amazing
Not a quick book, but a cool journey from the cities founding (the word Paris has it's origins in the phrase, "City of mud" a reference to the muddy Seine River). This book runs the hidden history of Paris: Rebels, Anarchists, Communists, Women of the Night, thieves, Nazi collaborators and the rulers who profited from the misery of the masses. A very enlightening book on the city!
May 05, 2014 Jimmie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting to compare the evolution of London and Paris. I guess all cities that are centuries old must suffer from growing pains. Paris's growing pains have been particularly bloody and violent. Yet it remains one of the world's most beloved cities. Perhaps the reason for that is because Paris is always reinventing itself.
Jennifer Uhlich
Nov 29, 2010 Jennifer Uhlich rated it liked it
Shelves: research
Reading this purely for research (and as such not as engaged with the text past the Revolution) but I would say that this book, while entertaining, is like being placed in a very fast taxi and whizzed all around the city--you need to bring your own map/familiarity with Paris, to better understand his quick references to neighborhoods and streets today, and you have that feeling you often get on such "see the city in a day" tours: the sense of moments flashing by you, so you are scratching your h ...more
Timothy Abbott
Sep 06, 2014 Timothy Abbott rated it it was amazing
A brilliant 5 star history lesson about one of my favorite cities...Going there? Read this, a must.Hussey does a great job dissecting the layers of history of Paris.And with an engaging writing style to boot.
KT Mcintyre
Jan 09, 2014 KT Mcintyre rated it liked it
This is really readable, and I definitely learnt a bunch of useless but cool facts, as well as getting a good overview of the key events in the history of Paris, and how they related to each other.

I found the masses of attention given to sex / the way it was written about a bit creepy and dehumanising. There is pretty much no mention of women in this book apart from those the author names 'whores'. The absence of any real attempt to explore the lives of sex workers, when they are mentioned almo
Apr 17, 2014 Jaima rated it it was ok
I didn't really enjoy this one, and agree wholeheartedly with this reader's two star review.
Dec 02, 2015 Natassia rated it liked it
While this book was super interesting and had loads to teach me, as someone who's loved Paris for years but never lived there (though visited many times), it is incredibly poorly organized. It follows a rough time frame, but I constantly found myself confused in the order of events, as he will go back and forth within time larger periods.

I find the author to also be somewhat of a snob and, while everyone has a bias, he does not declare his, making the points of bias that I did pick up particular
Oct 06, 2008 Confusedtwenty rated it really liked it
I have been reading this book for about a year now...I often get bored with current reads and move on to other books. Its not unusual for me to never return to that book, but Paris: The Secret History is so good, that I recently picked it up again and took right off. The history of Paris described by the other is so deep and colorful that you feel like you've lived in those times. Added tid-bits however of a gruesome nature bring you back to Earth however, and really provide excellent character ...more
Aug 16, 2009 Kathryn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is an excellent overview of Paris. Rather than focusing on the movers and shakers of the period, Hussey tells you more about the peasants, whores and thieves of Paris. He has a talent for finding incredibly interesting little anecdotes that put the period into focus, though I occasionally got the feeling that these were more meant to shock than to actually paint a picture of the period.

It goes without saying that no book would be able to capture all of Paris's history, much less within 400
Marlaina Connelly
I love this book, the detail is fascinating and the back and forth relationship to modern day Paris, is what keeps me reading. I also appreciate the lore of the catholic references to saints and locales, but he doesn't sugar coat the history. He's done a lot of fascinating reading and research and summarizes his findings in an easy and enjoyable format. Although it takes me a while to digest each section, I still think it is worthwhile reading. Having been to Paris and going back in the spring, ...more
September Dee
Oct 10, 2014 September Dee rated it it was amazing
A wonderful history of Paris with many interesting tidbits of information we would never have guessed.
Gerhard Post
Feb 23, 2014 Gerhard Post rated it really liked it
The life of the "petit gents" of Paris. Now you understand why so many revolutions started there.
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“An Autopsy on an Old Whore Paris arouses strong emotions. ‘How different was my first sight of Paris from what I had expected,’ wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the first explorers of the modern city. ‘I had imagined a town as beautiful as it was large. I saw only dirty, stinking alleys, ugly black houses, a stench of filth and poverty. My distaste still lingers.’1 Years ago, I arrived in Paris for the first time, stepping down into the street from the metro station at Barbès and, like Rousseau and countless others arriving in the city for the first time, I did not see what I had expected to find.” 0 likes
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