Gerald Sinstadt's Reviews > Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

Parisians by Graham Robb
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's review
Aug 25, 10

bookshelves: non-fiction-general
Read from August 13 to 24, 2010

One of my books of the year: delight from first page to last.

Graham Robb's series of essays about Paris past and present are everything that most guide books are not: idiosyncratic, informative, amusing, provocative in the sense that the reader is provoked to explore, and (not least) beautifully written.

Who, for example, has read a book entitled L'Infection de Paris about the former village of Bondy where much of the city's sewage was dumped, the odour returning the foul stench whence it came? "According to the book," Robb writes, "the unregistered workers who made a living from the city's waste were 'a transient population of foreigners, mostly Germans and Luxembourgois of dubious origin' ... It was unclear whether the threat to Paris was believed to come from its own excrement or from the alien population that processed it." Immigration seen as something other than a cold statistic.

If you want to know what happened when Marie Antionette turned left when she should have turned right, what Adolf Hitler saw on a private tour of Paris in June 1940, how Marcel Proust discovered the Métro, or the record time for a lap of the Pérépherique - all this and much more is here.

There is, too, an assumption of a reader who is curious and moderately intelligent, allowing the author to unravel his tales one teasing step at a time. How rewarding guide books would be if every city had its own Graham Robb.

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