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Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris Hardcover – 2 Apr 2010
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'Robb's last book was the eye-opening The Discovery of France. He has come up with an ingenious idea for his new work - a history of Paris from 1750 to the present, telling its story through some of its most colourful, eccentric and emblematic citizens.'
`Ingenious...Marvellously entertaining, boundlessly energetic and original...This book is the sort of triumph that we have no right to expect to come from anyone in the steady way that Robb's masterly books come from him.' --Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph
`Robb writes beautifully, and possesses the novelist's ability to think himself into another's head...If you delight in the historical equivalent of finding a tiny restaurant frequented only by locals - the information that phosphorus was discovered by a would-be alchemist searching for the philosopher's stone in his own urine, or that Murger spied for Tolstoy, or that there are pagan altars beneath Notre Dame - then Robb will sate your appetite.'
'Spectacular... There are so many delights in this book... Robb's dealings with truth, fantasies, possibilities and coincidences are part of the pleasure of this roller-coaster ride around the past of Paris.'
--Gillian Tindall, Literary Review
`Graham Robb's new book is so richly pleasurable that you feel it might emit a warm glow if you left it in a dark room. Essentially it is a collection of true stories, culled from Robb's insatiable historical reading and lit by his imagination. He has the passion of a naturalist displaying a wall of rare butterflies or a cabinet of exotic corals, but his specimens are all human and walked the streets of Paris at some point between the French revolution and now...[A] generous and humane book.' --John Carey, `Book of the Week', Sunday Times
`There is much of the architect in Graham Robb. He creates huge, substantial works but also has the eye, ear and word for the detail... What new can there be said about Paris and its inhabitants? The answer to that is: 436 pages of narrative, one chronology, 17 pages of notes, 31 illustrations and a finely drawn map. It adds up to a triumph. Parisians is ambitious in scale, precise in language and inspired in its conception and realisation...Parisians is a worthy addition to the catalogue of a writer who may just be the most original, most accomplished non-fiction writer of his generation...An exhilarating ride. The reader looks back in wonder. A Paris of fresh allure arises from the mist of time. Robb has built something substantial, something formidable.' --Sunday Herald
`Following [Robb's] last hugely successful book, The Discovery of France, he returns to the capital and shows us that the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Café de Flore and Montmartre are the merest sideshows in a darker, stranger, more fragmented history, sprinkled with mystery and magic...Every chapter contains a surprise, written up in a rich and supple prose...This is a deeply engrossing, ingenious and rewarding book...I thought I knew Paris well. But Graham Robb has shown me, quite chillingly, that I hardly know it at all.' --Rupert Christiansen, `Book of the Week', Sunday Telegraph
`Like countless historians before him, Graham Robb begins this book by lamenting the fact that the agitated history of Paris is so rich and dense as to make giving a full account all but impossible. Wisely, he does not even attempt this. Instead, displaying the inventiveness that marked his previous books on France (most notably his recent bestseller The Discovery of France), he sets out to tell the history of the city, from 1750 to the present day, as a series of stories, all based on fact and including tales from adulterers, policemen, murderers, prostitutes, revolutionaries, poets, soldiers and spies. His aim is to reveal the personality of the city...The great and daring trick Robb pulls off is to make the familiar so unfamiliar that in every sense it is like seeing the city anew. In this, he admirably fulfils his boldest stated aim - to renew for the writer and reader "the pleasure of thinking about Paris".' --Observer
`Enjoyable...entertaining...Robb imagines, novelises and even cinematises his Parisian vignettes'
`In his introduction he writes "The sight of a heavy porte-cochère closing on an inner courtyard seemed to be a characteristically Parisian sight." The 19 episodes which follow are the literary equivalent of those oblique, enigmatic spaces beyond ordinary view...Mr Robb has a beautiful prose style. Although he is writing non-fiction his approach is always elliptical and often inconclusive as he sifts clues wondering where they may lead. When it works the result is magical and surreal.' --Daily Express
`[Robb] writers beautifully, and possesses the novelist's ability to think himself into another's head...Marvellously evocative.' --Scotsman
`A treasure trove of historical journeys in Paris...Paris has never been so fascinating.'
`Robb describes his latest offering as "an adventure history", and with good reason. Rather than attempting a conventional biography, he takes the reader on a dizzying exploration of 400 years of Parisian history...Deliciously serendipitous...Robb may be a fine historian, but he can also spin a rattling good yarn...Again and again the author's dazzling descriptive skills and ability to conjure up a moment act like a mini time machine, placing the reader seemingly in the middle of events until now dimly grasped at...Robb ambitiously weaves together a geographical and historical entity out of a disordered jumble of seemingly disconnected parts...The scale and ambition is immense...As audaciously written as it is meticulously researched. Robb is both a fine historian and, above all an enthusiast for his subject.' --Book of the Week, Daily Mail
`The virtues of fiction are evoked from the beginning and practised throughout...With his ninth book, Robb confirms his reputation as our leading non-academic interpreter of France. Not that he lacks academic rigour; but it lies discreetly behind a non-academic joyfulness. The French used to celebrate Richard Cobb as le grand Cobb; and perhaps it isn't too early to hail his successor as le grand Robb...Robb's eye is quirky, amused and très British...This is a continuing adventure, and you really should read it for yourself.'
--Julian Barnes, London Review of Books
'Reading Graham Robb's highly enjoyable and original book I was irresistibly reminded of my own first adventure in Paris... All I can say is I wish I'd had Graham Robb's Parisians to guide and inspire me. This is a book which can be heartily recommended to all those going to Paris for the first time, as well as frequent travellers... Full of gripping detail.' --Antonia Fraser, Mail on Sunday
'Fascinating... a romantic, narrative history of a subtle, eclectic and circuitous kind... In bringing his skills as a literary critic and biographer to bear on the history of France, and now Paris, Robb has revolutionized historical writing on the cusp between fiction and non-fiction.' --Times Literary Supplement
`A bustling study of Paris from 1750 to the present ingeniously told through its most vibrant characters.'
'[Robb] writes with the thoroughness and accuracy of an historian, but with the playfulness of a novelist... I wouldn't be surprised if its author is now being hailed as "le grand Robb".' --Country Life
'Graham Robb uses 19 vignettes stretching from the last years of the ancien regime to the riots of 2005, to provide a fascinating, alternative portrait of the City of Light.' --Sunday Telegraph
The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller from the award-winning author of The Discovery of FranceSee all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
I'm looking forward to reading more of this author.
It is a series of 20 vignettes, all, as the title would have it, concerning Parisians, or those who did some serious passing through. Robb's style varied among the vignettes, but one technique he used a few times I found impressive. Who is he talking about? He uses pronouns to tell the story, and drops a few hints as to the identity of the person along the way. In the first vignette, entitled "One Night at the Palais-Royal" which, regrettably, I have only known as a Metro stop, concerns Napoleon losing his virginity at the age of 18, thanks to some professional assistance. Only a couple pages before the end, when Robb mentioned his work on Corsica, did I suspect it was Napoleon. The one technique I thought was not working was the screenplay "Lovers of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.Read more ›
Whereas 'The Discovery of France' was a collection of stories about unfamiliar, often quirky individuals with often quite an impact on the future (in whatever field they happened to be working in) but somehow forgotten and/or largely ignored, in 'Parisians' several chapters are devoted to well-known people (Giscard d'Estaing, Sartre, Proust, ...), and although Robb describes little known things about these people, this somehow didn't fascinate me as much as the 'thoroughbred' nobodies of 'The Discovery of France'. Truth to say, the first chapters of 'Parisians' I found quite captivating, written in Robb's easy-going and slightly tongue-in-cheek style I had come to like so much. But about halfway through the book I found it harder and harder to keep an interest, partly perhaps because of Robb's experiments in style as well (there's a whole chapter written as a film scenario).
So all in all, not a 'bad' book or a complete waste of time by any means, but I thought 'The Discovery of France' a lot better.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A well written and thoughtful book - but ruined by it's publishers (WW Norton & Co NY). An enjoyable read that took one to view Paris from various perspectives and times. Read morePublished on 15 Jan. 2015 by Will Short
Clever, factual account of a number of Parisian personalities presented in unusual ways (one as a film script). Read morePublished on 11 Dec. 2014 by Jo Anderson
Very slow - I did not finish. With aggressive editing it could have been interesting.Published on 30 Aug. 2014 by Dr T
I took this book to Paris and read it aloud to my partner there. It is full of unexpected stories and really very interesting. Read morePublished on 28 May 2014 by Jill
An excellent book - Robb brings these characters to warm life and gives us a fascinating insider's view of some well-known, and lesser known, Parisian characters. Read morePublished on 27 April 2014 by svg