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Paris: The Secret History

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  897 ratings  ·  119 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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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  897 ratings  ·  119 reviews

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Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france, history, travel, paris
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,
Jill Hutchinson
Feb 20, 2012 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
'Aussie Rick'
Oct 10, 2011 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
Mar 26, 2014 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. ...more
Sarah Finch
Jun 26, 2012 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
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent history of Paris. Don't just read it before you go. Take it with you. ...more
Michael Neiberg
Dec 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
Ugh. Boring, less than an inch deep, and factually wrong in many places.
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
Feb 19, 2008 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
Sep 15, 2007 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. ...more
Lauren Albert
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-european
A good social history of Paris but there is nothing secret about it. Perhaps it's simply because so much has been written about the "underbelly" of Paris and other cities that it no longer feels so "under." ...more
Riley Steffey
Feb 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Read this book to prepare for a trip that, alas, never got to be (ironically, it was scheduled for March 2020- not a good time to be in Europe!!). Nonetheless, a very fun and informative read!
This didn't get only three stars because this isn't well-written, or that it's not fun and interesting - but because it's so inconsistent and hard to follow. It purports ti be the "story of a city and its people", but can't decide which people. Mostly it seems to be the story of kings, occasionally writers, very rarely others. It both assumes a lot of prior knowledge of French history and explains the well-known at length - including things that have little specifically to do with Paris - but th ...more
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Three and a half years later, I have finally finished this book.

Though the timeline may make this hard to believe, I really did enjoy this. I learned so much about Parisian history, and this brought Paris’ entire messy, bloody backstory to light. I love Paris - I started this book on my first trip there and was able to go back again this year - but I’m a tourist. I don’t know the entire history, the depths of what the city has been through. But there’s just something about it.

It’s slow, but I
Marguerite Kaye
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Brilliant social history of Paris from its early origins. Full of fascinating little snippets and personal histories, highly opinionated, extremely entertaining and an excellent read. Paris is one of my favourite cities, and this put a whole new slant on it. Love it.

Second read, August 2018. I read this after Alastair Horne's Seven Ages of Paris. The books are very similar, highly readable and covering a breathtaking span of history, but I enjoyed Horne's book much more. You certainly don't need
Dec 05, 2010 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
Jun 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It appealed to my love of history! While there were times when I had to research the historical context taking place beyond Paris itself, it's a great walk through the history of the city that doesn't get sidetracked by the events taking place at a larger national or international level. ...more
Manish Katyal
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
It has the stuff that the French hide under the rug - deeply engrained anti-semitism and their sordid history of collaborating with Nazis.
John Nebauer
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, france
This is a fascinating history of a city admired for its architecture and sighed over by romantics. There is nothing 'secret' but Hussey has put in an enormous amount of work synthesising a mass of writings into a readable one-volume format.

It follows the development of the city from the pre-Roman period (when it was a Gallic settlement called Lutetia) to the early years of the current century. For much of Paris' history, it was a city of tiny streets - successive layers of building, demolition a
Jan 05, 2022 rated it liked it
This deserved 2.5 stars, but we don't get to do that here.
I so badly wanted to read a good book about Paris. Not a polite book- a book that covered the poverty, the bloodshed, the spirit, the glittering corpse that Paris is and has been.
And I got this.
This book was clearly written only for people who have lived in Paris for an extended period of time AND who have studied Paris previously. I am an educated person, yet I found myself needlessly going to the dictionary every few pages or so. This
Cameron Smith
Sep 11, 2022 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Poorly written and edited. Full of non-sequiturs, typos, and sentences that don't really make sense. For example "In the provinces, even the meanest 'Parisians' were all too often turned away from city gates as religious lunatics and potential assassins". That kind of writing would get a C on a high school essay. Every two pages, my concentration would be broken by bad grammar and clunky sentences.
Add to this an obsession with Parisian whores and the obvious pleasure the author gets from fantas
Aug 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Having just finished this book, I have to say, I wasn't impressed. The author focused mainly on philosophical movements and the sex life of the Parisians. It got repetitive very quickly.

There was also a problem with linearity; the author would jump from one date to a future date, then back again. Commas were grossly lacking (I had to reread several sentences), and some words were either misused or misspelled.

The book was short, and, for its length, well-packed with facts. It got very annoying t
Sandra Strange
This well researched history does present a good history of Paris with all the adventure of counts, kings, archbishops and their politics and wars, but it focuses on common people--Parisians of all classes, with their common struggles to prosper and survive through those adventures controlled by the counts, kings and archbishops. Warning: the history also focuses on the underclasses with their sordid and R rated challenges and issues, handled frankly, factually, and tastefully. Actually, some of ...more
Kelly Sedinger
Aug 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, 2017-reads
This is a good one-volume history of Paris, written engagingly and methodically. It doesn't quite seem to provide what it claims, though; the focus isn't as tightly on the Parisian underworld and counterculture as is claimed in the blurbs. At times the book is simply a straight-up history of French nobles and monarchs, with little underworld and counterculture to be found at all. The book is a perfectly decent one-volume, readable history of one of the world's great cities, but it's not always w ...more
Don Heiman
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In 2006 Andrew Hussey, Head of French and Comparative Literature at the University of London Institute in Paris, published "Paris the Secret History". This book is written with a sense of humor and passion. In the book, Hussey traces the cultural history of the city of Paris from its founding 300 years BC into the early 2000's AD. The story lines, description of terrain-architectures, and discussions of cultural mores are breathtaking. It is a must read for anyone who plans to visit the city or ...more
Russel Henderson
Nov 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fun read that would have been easier to follow with the addition of a few more maps. Perhaps they were included in the hardcover edition, but the couple in the paperback were not especially helpful. Hussey's book was wide-ranging, horizontally and vertically, touching on everything from intellectual and political history to that of vice. A number of the subjects were worthy of their own book-length treatment (some, particularly the Commune, the Resistance, and 1968, of course have been). An in ...more
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Been living in Paris for many years and discovered many things. I understand that for people who only pass their holidays and never really settle here this book might be not so interesting. But for Parisians it’s a good read. He doesn’t speak almost about rich people because Paris has always been for the poor, middle class, and tons of tourists. They are “the secret ingredient” of this city.
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
A comprehensive overview of the history of Paris from prehistoric times to the present day. More weighted towards the more recent history, as one might expect, but a really rewarding read.
Jul 17, 2019 added it
Prehistory-2005 History of Paris from the viewpoint of "the dangerous classes" ...more
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Voluminous history of the dirty part of Paris, both literally and figuratively.
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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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