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Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  1,350 ratings  ·  215 reviews
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.

A young artillery lieutenant, strolling through the
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published April 26th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 2010)
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Les Misérables by Victor HugoA Moveable Feast by Ernest HemingwayMy Life in France by Julia ChildA Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Books About Paris
53rd out of 433 books — 427 voters
Room by Emma DonoghueThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg LarssonThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootOne Day by David NichollsFreedom by Jonathan Franzen
New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010
44th out of 100 books — 637 voters

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Community Reviews

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I wanted to love this book. And being a super Les Misérables nerd, I was excited to see that the riot that much of the book revolves around got several pages. In ENGLISH, you guys. I wish this weren't so rare. And I did pick up some really interesting bits and pieces of information, especially in the early chapters.

But when a book of history doesn't cite its sources, I get uneasy. And there are no real citations to speak of here. At the end of the book, there's a short list of sources he used by
I almost ALWAYS feel guilty, when abandoning a book. I picked this up in anticipation of my upcoming trip with the hopes that it's a Bill Bryson-style history of Paris, with lots of interesting little obscure tidbits about Parisian history. I hoped it would give me some enlightenment into the lives of the great Parisians throughout history, as well as to help me relate some of it to my surroundings when I finally get there.

The thing that made me so mad about this book was the writing. I think G
Graham Robb is a fantastic writer and a historian like no other. The first few chapters of this book are completely fascinating, history as novellas. Inevitably with such a range of subjects and styles, some parts are more successful than others, and in general the earlier parts are better than the later. To enjoy it to the full you need a) some patience as he toys with you, letting slip key facts late on in each chapter, b) a strong interest in French history and c) ideally at least basic knowl ...more
I cannot recommend this book. I suspect that Robb pilfered bits of history that didn't quite make it into his Birth of France book and so the effect of this book is one of piecemeal and choppiness. He has a quite annoying habit of beginning each chapter by refusing to name the protagonist ("The tall man walked down the left bank of the Seine . . .") so that the reader is left trying to guess who he is writing about. It seems a coy way of showing off his erudition. And then there are the silly fo ...more
In the hands of Graham Robb, Paris throbs with fascinating people, events and related geography in nineteen true narratives from the Revolution to the present in PARISIANS: AN ADVENTURE HISTORY OF PARIS.

Creating mystery and with an eye for detail, the author illuminates Paris through the experiences of famous, unknown, and forgotten inhabitants. Each tale is complete in itself, so readers can choose landmarks that increase their knowledge or seduce their interests.

Who is the young lieutenant fro
José Gutiérrez
CAVEAT LECTOR: Upon reading Robb’s glorious book about the City of Lights you may experience something akin to Paris Syndrome, that is: acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution, derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, etc.The prose is a gleaming, perfectly calibrated time machine well worth these side effects. Dear Reader, you are in the presence of one of those rare intellects: an historia ...more
I wanted to give this book at least 3 stars, but really, it was just okay.

The premise is great: follow key characters of Paris through defining moments of their lives (Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, etc.), in a series of vignettes that will ultimately form a narrative of the city itself. Unfortunately, the writer's style pretty much ruined the narrative for me. He had the annoying habit of trying to with hold information, such as the character's name, until the last moment. I think this was an effo
This book is not a conventional narrative of the history of Paris, nor is it the comprehensive study of its denizens that its title might suggest. Rather, what Graham Robb has written is a collection of short tales about some of the people and events that have experienced and shaped the city, from a trip taken by a young Corsican lieutenant to Paris on the eve of of the French Revolution (spoiler: it's Napoleon Bonaparte) to an account of the riots by second-generation immigrants in Paris's subu ...more
I really loved Robb's previous book 'The Discovery of France', so I had certain expectations for this book. As before, the book consists of various vignettes or short stories bound by a common theme, in this case the city of Paris.
Robb has a very nice and easy style, at once familiar with and fond of France, yet sufficiently distant so as to note its peculiarities.
As has been pointed out by other readers, the quality of these parts is rather uneven: the film scenario with Juliette Gréco is part
Mary Graves
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

I'm new to Good Reads! The book is non-fiction -- but a very intimate one! It's called Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb.

This is a very different history written by Graham Robb, a person fascinated by Paris. He's also written: Balzac, Victor Hugo, Rimbaud and The Discovery of France -- all before this particular book. This is a very unusual history -- in different time frames, all historically accurate, well researched -- stories from
I would have given it 3.5 stars if half stars existed on goodreads. I found out a couple of fascinating historical facts from this book that made it absolutely worth reading even though I did not always share the author's take on the events.
The book is written in a well flowing, masterful prose but the author's predominantly omnipotent tone sometimes felt annoying. I am not sure if I would not be disappointed with this book if I had a minimal previous knowledge of France's history and culture.It
Paris, without a doubt, is never boring. And this book focuses on various 'moments' in the city's moody history. Graham Robb's book is heavy curated in the sense that he tells various narratives dealing with Paris at a point of crisis of some point.

Each chapter focuses on a particular narrative, and the one's that work for me is the chapter on Napoleon flirting with a whore at the Museum, the Occupation seen through a Parisian child's eye which is terrifying and horrible at the same time, and t
I loved the idea of this book two years ago when I purchased it--a nonlinear novella/vignette approach to Parisian history. However, I found it difficult to read without a strong background in French history (I spent my college and grad years focused on the Brits!). As a result, I put it down after the first few chapters, unable to engage with the text.

After recently traveling to Paris, I picked up the book again, started over, and found it incredibly interesting. By focusing on significant mom
Most of the characters in these stories do not have streets named after them, but many are essential to the history of Paris. In the 1770’s, for example, architect Charles-Axel Guillaumot saved Paris from falling into the quarries that the city had been built upon centuries before. Each chapter evokes a the city and period not only in the story but also in the language. The narrative of the student revolt in 1968, told in postmodern jargon is hysterically funny. I wish that I had read this book ...more
i wanted to read this because i thought the concept was interesting- a history of paris told through the years through the writings and bits of history of ordinary and not so ordinary people. with the exceptions of a few stories, i felt like it dragged and didn't include any explanation to actually interest me if i didn't already know something about the background. for example, the revolts at nanterre in the late 60s. i had never heard of them before and by the time i'd pieced together what was ...more
This sounded like a really interesting, varied look at a cross section of Parisians, both famous and not. Since I've never been to Paris, I thought this would be a good way to experience the city of lights.

Unfortunately, I was bored stiff. I listened to this on audio book, and even though the narrator had a wonderful voice, I was so bored that I couldn't keep my focus on the story. When you're more interested by the people jammed in beside you on the subway ride home than your audio book, you kn
Margaret Pinard
It began really well, and the tales of medieval and Renaissance Paris before the Revolution were definitely the most well written. When it gets to more modern stuff, especially after WWII, the author takes on a weird, choppy, 'artistic' style, and I have no idea what he's talking about. The 'Black Prince?' But in between those parts, there are some good parts in the second half of the book- the piece about Vidocq, the bit about the banlieu riots, the story of the Jews escaping... my favorite sli ...more
BBC Book of the Week

"The idea was to create a kind of mini Human Comedy of Paris, in which the history of the city would be illumined by the real experiences of its inhabitants."

So says the author Graham Robb about his new book 'Parisians'. And a whole host of characters walk, scuttle jump, run and flounce across his pages, beginning with the French Revolution and ending in more current times. These inhabitants are natives and visitors, and it is the likes of Charles Axel Guillaumot, Marie Antoi

I loved this book. Some of the chapters, which are true stories,
are amazing, historical and moving. The chapter on Juliette Greco,
who became a singer and figure in post war paris, also the lover of
Miles Davis, who is playing jazz. It reads
like fiction, screenplay, but it is true. The chapter on Marie Antoinette
Lost, is another amazing example of Robb's writing history as a marvelous
story. ANd the backdrop is always Paris, beautiful and amazing Paris.
Not often does it happen that I don't finish a book. This was one of those books. I had it for travel reading for a long weekend in Paris, thinking it would be just the thing for taking along for my first trip to such a historical city, yet light enough for an entertaining read as it promised stories of historical persons and locations. However, I found it boring and left off after the first two stories.
This is a book of nonfiction stories about Paris, written in the most distracting and flowery way possible. The earlier stories, which mostly focused on individuals, were interesting, even compelling at times. When the author deviated from the formula, results were not good (ugh, a faux-screenplay). Unless you're obsessed with Paris, don't bother.
Can you give a book two different ratings?

This book is a series of vignettes about life in Paris from the distant past to relatively recent times. It is a fascinating concept, and the stories selected are interesting. In the right hands, this could have been a 4.

Unfortunately, the idea wasn't in the right hands, but instead in the hands of Graham Robb. The writing was atrocious. At first, it was confusing, then it was irritating. By the time it got to a chapter about Juliette Greco (who I had to
Carole Armour
I've owned this book for a while now and having lent it to a friend I must admit I haven't read all the chapters. I look forward to doing that. I do remember very much enjoying the chapter on Marie Antoinette getting lost in Paris with a companion courtesan who didn't dare challenge her complete lack of sense of direction. But there's more to cover and I will update once I've done that. This book led me to dip into The Discovery of France and The Ancient Paths by the same author. He's quite orig ...more
Michele Hauf
I'm only two chapters in and I'm already loving this book to pieces!
I liked the beginning of the book, but it deteriorated as I progressed. The story about the Val'd'Hiv Roundup was very bad. I stopped reading the book, after I read the following phrase about de Gaulle's entrance in Paris after the Second World War: Though his gauntness bore poignant testimony to four long years of London fog and English food, he still had the bearing of a leader" (page 246). Did the author really think that the Parisians had been eating foie gras during the General's exile? By ...more
This is a good book, but not one that is easy to recommend. I found myself wondering who the audience was for this. Someone familiar enough with, say, the Communards to follow a story told Memento-style in reverse chronological order, but with popular enough taste to want to read a lurid pulp-style tale of the beginnings of the private detectives? I dunno...I guess someone like me--the casual aficionado who has spent enough time in Paris to know the basic geography, but is not ready to commit to ...more
A bit over 3.5 stars. It was an interesting read, but some parts are not. I got bored to death by one chapter, and several chapters in the second half felt meh to me. Maybe I am not a huge fan of its modern history? I love the parts set during the 19th century and the first half of 20th century though, especially the literary ones. His writing style is easy to get into, but he likes to put himself into the story in the first and last chapters which I finds a bit useless. Also, the formats he use ...more
Jim McDonnell
As a lover of Paris, and a Francophile in general, I was looking forward to reading Robb's anecdotal account of the history of the City of Light - especially as I'd enjoyed his previous history of France ('The Discovery of France).

I did enjoy this book but at the same time I came away rather dissatisfied; in the first place, I found it difficult to read due to what seems to me to be a not very flowing narrative. I've already mentioned Robb's device of maintaining each chapter's central figure an
PARISIANS is an odd book, arbitrary and whimsical in its choice of what historical incidents it relates. Robb describes his method as being that of a Paris "tourist who follows an uncharted course like a train of thought, only later, after retracing the puzzle of streets on a map, recognizes how much knowledge can adhere to the accidental experience. I have tried to replicate the convenient, mnemonic effect of a long walk, a bus ride, or a personal adventure, to create a series of contexts to w ...more
I picked out this book before a trip to Paris, and I read (most of) it on my flight across the pond. I chose this book as an alternative way to research the city over typical tourist books that plug the most common sites that end up being overrated. And it far surpassed my expectations.

The book is essentially a collection of 20 short stories, some forgotten, some that still reverberate today. They are written in such a personal manner that when you visit the sites and walk the streets, you feel
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Graham Macdonald Robb FRSL (born June 2, 1958) is a British author.

Robb was born in Manchester and educated at the Royal Grammar School Worcester and Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied Modern Languages. He earned a PhD in French literature at Vanderbilt University.

He won the 1997 Whitbread Book Award for best biography (Victor Hugo) and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Rimbau
More about Graham Robb...
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War Rimbaud: A Biography Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts Victor Hugo: A Biography

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“In those days, long before, a view over the rooftops of Paris was an unaffordable luxury. The apartment he had shared with a mousy young writer from Laon had a view of the Jardin de Luxembourg – if he stuck his head out of the window as far as it would go and twisted it to the left, a smudge of green foliage appeared in the corner of one eye. That had been his best apartment to date. They had decorated it in the ‘Bohemian’ style of the 1830s : a few volumes of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo, a Phrygian cap, an Algerian hookah, a skull on a broomstick handle (from the brother of a friend, Charles Toubin, who was an intern at one of the big hospitals) and, of course, a window box of geraniums, which was not only pretty but also illegal. (Death by falling window box was always high up the official list of fatalities.) For a proper view of Paris, they visited Henry’s painter friends who lived in a warren of attic rooms near the Barriere d’Enfer and called themselves the Water-Drinkers. When the weather was fine and the smell of their own squalor became unbearable, they clambered onto the roof and sat on the gutters and ridges, sketching chimneyscapes, and sending up more smoke from their pipes than the fireplaces below.
Three of the Water-Drinkers had since died of various illnesses known collectively as ‘lack of money’. When the last of the three was buried, in the spring of 1844, Henry and the others had found themselves at the graveside without a sou to give a gravedigger. ‘Never mind’, said he, “you can pay me the next time, ‘ and then, to his collegue : ‘It’s all right – these gentlemen are a regular customers.”
“As the shabby section of the audience rose to its feet, waving its hats and food-wrappers, a rich, stale smell wafted through the auditorium. It had something of the fog on the boulevard outside, where the pavements were sticky with rain, but also something more intimate : it suggested old stew and course tobacco, the coat racks and bookshelves of a pawnshop, and damp straw mattresses impregnated with urine and patchouli. It was - as though the set designer had intended some ironical epilogue - the smell of the real Latin Quarter.” 1 likes
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