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Paris: The Secret History
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Paris: The Secret History

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  514 ratings  ·  74 reviews
"Vivid, informed, delectably enlightened introduction to the city's best-kept secrets. No visitor to France should go without it.""--Sunday Times "(UK)

Paris captures everyone's imaginations: It's a backdrop for Proust's fictional pederast, Robert Doisneau's photographic kiss, and Edith Piaf's serenaded soldier-lovers; a home as much to romance and love poems
Paperback, 488 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Penguin Group(CA) (first published July 6th 2006)
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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'
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Excellent history of Paris. Don't just read it before you go. Take it with you.
Michael Neiberg
Ugh. Boring, less than an inch deep, and factually wrong in many places.
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
I didn't really enjoy this one, and agree wholeheartedly with this reader's two star review.
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
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
A wonderful history of Paris with many interesting tidbits of information we would never have guessed.
Gerhard Post
The life of the "petit gents" of Paris. Now you understand why so many revolutions started there.
Sylvia Ttl
This book provides a decent overview of the Parisian's history, especially those unsavoury in nature. The writing style of the author is rather interesting, but narrative of certain historical events are not quite organised in a chronological manner. Many intriguing events are briefly mentioned therein without further explanation. Many readers probably feel dissatisfied to be lead to a high point of curiosity, yet they need to have their tablets handy to verify certain facts online. I just wish ...more
Lisa Church sielen
Interesting, but quite long and dry.
Fantastic, loved it.
3.5 stars. Not a fan of history books but I did enjoy this one! Very interesting. I liked hearing about individual people who helped shaped the history of Paris in quite unconventional ways. I did find myself getting bored in places. This very well could happen in any history book for me though. I'm glad I read it!
Ugh. This was one of the hardest books to read and finish.
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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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