Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris” as Want to Read:
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  2,016 ratings  ·  272 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Parisians, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Parisians

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.67  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,016 ratings  ·  272 reviews

Sort order
Allow Graham Robb to take you to Paris of the eighteenth century and then, with several stops along the way, all the way back to the new millenium. Mr Robb says that although he came to know Paris well, he also realised that he would never really know it. Believe me, he knows it better than the likes of most of us.

Allow Mr Robb to entertain you with obscure bits of information that you won't readily find in your average history or travel book. Mr Robb is an excellent tour guide. In his itinerary
Sarah Booth
Jul 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History lovers who also like the smutty backstory
Robb seems to expect you to have some idea of History and even some of the French Language so I wouldn't say the book is an easy read, but it is a very entertaining one! His habit of setting a scene without letting you know who you are looking at can be a bit annoying at times. However the stories in here are wickedly fascinating and scandal/gore factor will get even the most upstanding of readers glued to the book like rubber-neckers to a traffic accident. It's intelligent yet throws in a tiny ...more
Mar 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Gary Inbinder
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: france, history
"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." Robb plays this theme with variations throughout his collection of anecdotes and vignettes focusing on The City of Paris and the Parisians. He explores the city that changes and yet, in many ways remains the same. Each section profiles individuals associated with the city, persons famous, infamous, and obscure. He weaves a ton of information into his stories, avoiding obtrusive info-dump like a seasoned historical novelist.

The subtitle is: An Adventur
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
Apr 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Radio 4 listeners
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 21, 2015 rated it liked it
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
To call it history, at times seems disingenuous. There's a lot of speculation in here. Which is part of what makes Parisians seem more like a series of exceptionally compelling short stories than serious nonfiction, which Robb's The Discovery of France most certainly was.

Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Reading, as I was, more for interest and literary merit than for raw information, I was captivated, and I learned a thing or two about the development of the Parisian sewer system, the opp
Elizabeth Theiss
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Robb's latest book is an insider's history of significant events and people in the history of Paris. As an inveterate Francophile who gave the author's previous book, The Discovery of France, five stars, I was prepared to be delighted. I wasn't. The tales are interesting but the voice that tells them suffers from a strait-jacketed style that avoids names in favor of anonymous descriptions of events. If this sounds confusing, it is. So for example, it takes a while to figure out that the person e ...more
Sep 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Todd Stockslager
Jul 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: We'll always have Paris

Paris is at once as earthy and ethereal as any spot of ground on the planet. Its ground provided the setting for the romantically remembered interlude in Casablanca and received the blood of guillotine victims during the violence of the Revolution. Robb has written an "adventure history" of the city in vignettes that highlight some of the people and events who shaped that ground and the city and people who have occupied it since that Revolution.

Written in an
Lauren Hancock
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was my favorite book about Paris I read while in Paris. Each chapter is pretty lengthy, so it is a bit of a time investment, but each chapter reads like its own little novella. It was easy to connect the stories to locations and it greatly enhanced my visits to many areas and attractions. I loved reading it in Paris, but I had 4+ months there, so if you're planning a trip, read it before you go.
Mary Graves
Nov 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 think I would have liked this book more if I knew Paris better. Knowing the general layout of the city and where the landmarks mentioned in the book are located would have lent me a better mental picture of the action taking place. But it did make me excited to explore more of these areas talked about because of the vivid writing, I will be able to picture certain stories and possible look out for historical details hidden in plain site. Now off to don my walking shoes!
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 22, 2010 rated it really liked 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
May 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Lauren Albert
This book is a series of narratives or vignettes, rather than one long narrative history. Robb uses individual events, small and large, to illuminate the larger history of Paris. The story of Marie Antoinette getting lost just outside the Tuilleries during her attempted escape gives him a chance to explain the confusing layout of the city and the lack at that time of a detailed map. A look at Notre Dame lets him reveal the history of Alchemy. ("one of the more conservative estimates puts the nju ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Oct 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From a master historian of modern France, 1789-now in a series of amuse-bouche, biographically centered Parisian vignettes--a young Napoleon seeking the resumption of the mulberry tree subsidy on Corsica, Madame Zola on the personal cost of the Dreyfus Affair, Inspector Vidocq and the real Count of Monte Cristo, Marcel Proust's fascination with the Metro system, the Occupation of 1940-44 through the eyes of children and Marie Antoinette slowing the escape from the Tulleries by being lost in Pari ...more
Margaret Pinard
Apr 28, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Elina Niemelä
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.
May 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing

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.
Mar 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Not necessarily misleading, just not as good as I thought it could have been. Stories were actually good, especially the descriptions of Paris. Organization could have been different, although I don't really know how. Not to say the book is a bad read, but it could be a different read that maybe doesn't cause me to skim as much as I did.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Paris: The Secret History
  • Seven Ages of Paris
  • Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light
  • Paris to the Past: Traveling through French History by Train
  • Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910
  • The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps
  • Paris: The Biography of a City
  • And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris
  • Walks through Lost Paris: A Journey into the Heart of Historic Paris
  • Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends
  • The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris
  • For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus
  • A Corner in the Marais: Memoir of a Paris Neighborhood
  • Paris Was Ours
  • The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris
  • Memoirs of Montparnasse
  • Eiffel's Tower and the World's Fair where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count
  • Paris: The Collected Traveler
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
“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
More quotes…