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Paris to the Moon (A Vintage original) Paperback – 3 May 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (3 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099772019
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099772019
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,867,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Commissioned by The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik spent five years in Paris with his wife, Martha and son, Luke, writing dispatches now collected here along with previously unpublished journal entries in Paris to the Moon.

A self-described "comic-sentimental essayist", Gopnik chose the romance of Paris in its particulars as his subject. Gopnik falls in unabashed love with what he calls Paris's commonplace civilisation--the cafés, the little shops, the ancient carousel in the park and the small, intricate experiences that happen in such settings. But Paris can also be a difficult city to love, particularly its pompous and abstract official culture with its parallel paper universe. The tension between these two sides of Paris and the country's general brooding over the decline of French dominance in the face of globalisation (haute couture, cooking and sex, as well as the economy, are running deficits) form the subtexts for these finely wrought and witty essays.

With his emphasis on the micro in the macro, Gopnik describes trying to get a Thanksgiving turkey delivered during a general strike and his struggle to find an apartment during a government scandal over favouritism in housing allocations. The essays alternate between reports of national and local events and accounts of expatriate family life, with an emphasis on "the trinity of late-century bourgeois obsessions: children and cooking and spectator sports, including the spectator sport of shopping." Gopnik describes some truly delicious moments, from the rites of Parisian haute couture, to the "occupation" of a local brasserie in protest of its purchase by a restaurant tycoon, to the birth of his daughter with the aid of a doctor in black jeans and a black silk shirt, open at the front. Gopnik makes terrific use of his status as an observer on the fringes of fashionable society to draw some deft comparisons between Paris and New York ("It is as if all American appliances dreamed of being cars while all French appliances dreamed of being telephones") and do some incisive philosophising on the nature of both. This is masterful reportage with a winning infusion of intelligence, intimacy and charm. --Lesley Reed


The finest book on France in recent years - Alain de Botton, New York Times Book Review

A conscientious, scrupulously savvy American husband and father meets contemporary France, and fireworks result, lighting up not just the Eiffel Tower - John Updike --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
Not long after we moved to Paris, in the fall of 1995, my wife, Martha, and I saw, in the window of a shop on the rue Saint-Sulpice, a nineteenth-century engraving, done in the manner, though I'm now inclined to think not from the hand, of Daumier. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. P. Swift on 27 Aug. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Having lived and worked on the outskirts of Paris I was eager to read Adam Gopnik's account of his five years in the French capital. Alas the light - hearted, impartial read I was hoping for soon disappeared into page after page of heavyweight literary philosophy, which is what this book is.

Gopnik is undoubtedly an intellectual, a highly educated writer who is much respected within his own circle. He analyses Paris to a philosophical depth which at times sounds pompous and just plain arrogant. Gopnik seems to look down on Paris and its inhabitants, and his frequent biased comparisons to his native New York become tedious. The reader could be forgiven for wondering why he opted to live there at all.

If name - dropping were an Olympic sport, Gopnik would send America to the top of the medal table. He seems keen to flex his intellectual muscle with references to writers, journalists and philosophers who most of normal are unlikely to have heard of. For mere mortals who do not mingle in high brow literary circles (eg most of us) this makes the book baffling in places.

This book's one saving grace is that there are some sections of information: dubious dealings of French politicians, high - profile trials of former war criminals and the famous Paris fashion scene.

That said, this book is best suited to literary luncheons and does not fall in the category of "read for pleasure". This is the first of Adam Gopnik's books that I have read, and it will probably be the last.
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Format: Paperback
For Gropnik, there are two ways of doing everything: the correct (i.e. American) way, and the quaint and amusing French way. Sometimes he does display a sneaking sympathy for the French approach to things, but it is the American way that ultimately wins hands down. In a cringingly embarrassing way. In no way is he understanding what he is seeing.

Indeed, this book is more about America (or about Adam Gropnik...) than about Paris. One of the longest chapters is about baseball, for instance, the only Parisian thing about the chapter being the light coming in through the window. And by light, I don't mean the light of insight...

There are straightforward practical problems about the book too. It is extremely dated, showing that his writing was focussed on the moment, and not on a larger time space. All right in a weekly column, not okay in book form. Some of the essays are barrel-scraping - a columnist with a deadline to catch and nothing significant to write about. And some of the stuff is mind-bogglingly pretentious, a first year graduate student in cultural studies (at a minor college) who is confident of his ability to interpret the world in its entirety.

Give it a miss - if this was a bestseller in the USA, it helps to explain the perpetuity of cliché attitudes to France. There is far better around. An American in Paris? Try the book of David Lebovitz, for instance, who approaches France with the degree of respect that is required when approaching any unfamiliar culture. And also understands a great deal about cooking, in contrast to Gropnik. Who is simply pontificates on the issue. Want a sample of the kind of thing he writes? Well, American cooks are nowadays better than their French colleagues, he tells us. Why? Well, because the American cooks went to college before doing cooking! Yes, probably the same college where Gropnik learnt his cultural history...
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Howell on 18 Nov. 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a charming book, a collection on wonderful pieces on one of the world's favourite cities from an American journalist based in the city.
Paris to the Moon ranges right across the full scope of Parisian life. There's no real reason to say much more than this. If Paris is a city that you hold any affection for then read this book.
Throughly enjoyable.
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Format: Paperback
'There is no Regulon in the Semiosphere.' It's not Star Trek or Hitchhiker's Guide, it's France - and actually both a serious and a whimsical notion as refracted through the lens Gopnikian. One of those books that's attracted the full spectrum of response, both here and stateside (see It's easy to feel slightly envious of this debonaire American correspondent in Paris (which he knew as a child) and, appearing in British paperback eight years after its original publication, his political and economic observations cannot but feel somewhat dated, but I soon warmed to him; read #5 (on exercise and the French) and I think you will too. Though teetering on the edge of the precious (I didn't quite see how subtitles could occlude themselves, top of p100) these dispatches avoid cliché; they are witty and acute. I can see why Americans who cannot just 'pop over' would warm to this embedded, mildly exasperated account. Try Winter Journal #1 & 2. And I've never before seen someone put the boot into the Musée d'Orsay (p102). Way to go, Adam! Privileged he may be, he's engaging with it - and at least we can get to share
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Kendall on 30 Nov. 2002
Format: Paperback
The title, Paris to the Moon, derives, as the author points out, from a book by Jules Verne (From the Earth to the Moon [1865]). It may also conjure up, as it did in my mind, George Melies silent masterpiece, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902), with its unforgettable image of the man in the moon wincing as the rocket hits him square in the right eye. Unfortunately, this is only one of many of Gopnik's rather forced allusions, and for the most part, his prose doesn't quite measure up to his aspirations. His attempts at coming across as a reverse-crossing Alexis De Toqueville never acquire the necessary intellectual weight to be taken seriously. This leaves him in Peter Mayle territory, the French capital equivalent of the Provencal ex-pat, wending his way somewhat comically through the trials and tribulations of Gallic bureaucracy, with large dollops of cultural commentary along the way. Here again, however, the comparisons do not lend themselves favorably to Gopnik. Mayle is much better at this sort of thing. For one thing, Gopnik's anecdotes are far less amusing than Mayle's. Whereas Mayle's vignettes capture perfectly the charming idiosyncrasies of his Provencal neighbors, Gopnik's come across as recherche, almost contrived. Again like Mayle (who must at the least, have been in the back of Gopnik's mind as a model for this sort of writing), Gopnik frequently digresses in his story to discuss cultural and particularly political variants in Parisian society. Yet whereas Mayle might take off on a tangent that actually leads to some new insight into "the French character," Gopnik provides no real revelation or compelling portrait. We just get his less than insightful musings in too many instances.Read more ›
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