Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Books on Paris

I've had occasion to read a bunch of books on Paris over the last couple of years as the family has been able to stop through on various trips to Europe. The usual travel guides, high brow travel essays, low brow shopping guides, high-low shopping guides, history books, accounts of the city of Paris - published in English over the last couple of years. They include all the ones you usually see on the bookshelves, such as Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon or the just-out Maribeth Clemente, The Riches of Paris: A Shopping and Touring Guide or Sarah Turnbull, Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris. (Clemente's shopping guide is actually helpful, my wife tells me - my shopping in Paris is more or less limited to books on Rene Char and expensive chocolate. Gopnik's best seller is quite amazing in just how geographically limited it is in Paris - as though, living on the Rue Bac, he had set out a mere 10 square blocks of the Upper East Side in Manhattan starting at Fifth Avenue and the Park and then had written an entire book on New York located there.)

Among the historical accounts of Paris are Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Leonard Pitt, Walks Through Lost Paris, Jacques Yonnet, Paris Noir: The Secret History of a City, and Andrew Hussey, Paris: The Secret History. Each of these histories of the city is really quite excellent, but my favorite is Hussey's, which I read on this latest trip - the book lies somewhere in the category of higher journalism and lay (but impeccably researched, so far as I can tell) history. Hussey has a deep knowledge of the city, and its place in the history of France and Europe - the book is almost a miniature history of France in Europe. I strongly recommend it for anyone spending any time in Paris or just curious about the history of France.

There are also more specialized books that have also taught me a considerable amount - William Wiser, The Twlight Years: Paris in the 1930s, for example, which explores the last years of the Third Republic (and also caused me to finally understand just how entirely marginal to the intellectual and artistic life of Paris all those romantic American artist-expats really were, as it describes their homeward drift as Europe fell apart). (I'm leaving aside general books on French politics or works by French politicians, such as Dominique de Villepin's The Shark and the Seagull.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


One of the most knowledgeable people that I know on the history of Paris is my wife and your former roommate Isabelle. She would be very happy to provide her insights and we would both love to catch up on your next visit to Paris.