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Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris Hardcover – 2 Apr 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st Edition edition (2 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330452444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330452441
  • Product Dimensions: 16.6 x 4.3 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 180,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


'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.'
--Sunday Times

`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.'
--Evening Standard

'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'
--Financial Times

`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.'
--Sunday Times

'[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

Book Description

The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller from the award-winning author of The Discovery of France

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The scholarship is 'larvé' (below the surface). There's a little autobiography, charming enough, to entice us in. From then on, infuriatingly, we're kept teasingly in ignorance of the subjects of his novelised segments. I guessed the first. On the first page proper (page 11) we meet 'a poet'. We turn to the notes - to find there are none! Ca alors! A little on the hefty side for the 'fun read' this aspires to be - let's hope the paperback's more backpacker-friendly
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read the reviews in last Sunday's newspaper and shied off buying this book in favour of Hazan's book The Invention of Paris. I was really put off by the Hazan book as the maps are non existant or poor sketches and with all the names of the streets flying round at odd angles to the descriptions on any page I was totally confused - even though I used to live in Paris! And so I went back and bought Robb's book. Thank goodness. Here is something I can read and enjoy. The nuggets of history are beautifully framed, paced and recounted as if to a friend. Thank you for another delightful book - I should not have lost faith and should have bought Parisians first!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was hooked on Parisians from the first page, and found it difficult to drag myself away from the many amazing true stories from the history of this marvellous city portrayed in its pages. Graham Robb uses a style of writing which gradually places a story together,keeping the reader ever so slightly in the dark and leading him/her on, so that quite often the twist of the tale does not become apparent until the final page of the chapter (see the true story of the Count of Monte Cristo, for example). The tale of the alchemists, the tableaux in Notre Dame, and the splitting of the atom was particularly intriguing, although I had to read it twice in order to appreciate all the nuances. The only chapter I found totally baffling concerned Juliette Greco; so perhaps I'll have to read it a couple more times!
I'm looking forward to reading more of this author.
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By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 Jun. 2014
Format: Paperback
Graham Robb is an Englishman who loves his France, and knows it well. I first read his The Discovery of France whose title begs the question: But wasn't it always just there? It was Frenchman (and the other European nationalities that "discovered" all those other places on the globe. Or, so they claimed. Robb convinced me that France too, was also "discovered," in terms of a concept, as well as a nation, and if memory serves me correctly, I retain the factoid that less than half the inhabitants of "the Hexagon," (Metropolitan France) spoke French sometime in the early 19th century. Robb acquired his French erudition a number of ways, with a most appealing one being riding a bike around the countryside, every chance he got. Thus, when I saw this work I knew it was a "must" read, and found it even more impressive that "Discovery."

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.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book quite soon after having read the marvellous The Discovery of France, but then it took me quite a while before I actually began reading it. Was my timing perhaps not ideal? Was I more in the mood for 'The Discovery of France' at the time? I'm not sure, but sad to say I liked 'Parisians' not as much.

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.
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