Best books on the history of Paris

Here are three recent favorites from the hardcover shelves. My bias is that I like my non-fiction fictionalized. That is, I like a good story well-told. With Paris 2000 plus year old history, this is a tall order for a manageable book, but one of these stands out as one of my favorite books of 2007, and I’ll likely re-read it. It was that good.

“Seven Ages of Paris” (Alistair Horne) -What a book, what a story, what writing. This is the one to buy if you love Paris and have always wanted to know its history. The book is eponymously named after seven ages of Paris. While it shortchanges World War II and beyond, it’s a lot of history in an accessible volume. Each tale within the larger story is compellingly related and Paris-lovers will enjoy reading tons of trivia that doesn’t seem trivial during the reading. Horne is a helluva a writer and story-teller. I’ll read this again.

“Paris: The Secret History” (Andrew Hussey) – I found this to be a very complete book, but a not very exciting read. I don’t know if the stories here are really that secret, but are a little more arcane then the broad sweep of history you get in “Seven Ages.” As one Amazon reviewer said,

this book reads like a minimally organized pastiche of historical snippets commonly acccessible to any grade school student researching Paris. The entire text is compsed in jejune paragraphs as if the author himself couldn’t even stay interested enough to sustain any intellectual progression of thought.


– Less a book about Paris than about France, you mihgt still guess who the main star is. However, this book is more about the role the culture of the provinces played in the development of France. For those wanting to learn more about the cultures outside Paris, this book received tons on praise in 2007. The author, Graham Robb, has written biographies of Hugo, Rimbaud, and Balzac, all of which were selected by the New York TImes as “best books of the year.” For some reason, and despite my life experiences in provincial Brittany, I also found this book a little cold. I may have been looking for more of a story and this reads more like many small vignettes; interesting, but with less of a narrative to carry me from cover to cover.
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