No-one knows a city like the people who live there – so who better to relate the history of Paris than its inhabitants through the ages? Taking us from 1750 to the new millennium, Parisians introduces us to some of those inhabitants: we meet spies, soldiers, scientists and alchemists; police commissioners, photographers and philosophers; adulterers, murderers, prisoners and prostitutes. We encounter political and sexual intrigues, witness real and would-be revolutions, assassination attempts and several all too successful executions; we visit underground caverns and catacombs, enjoy the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, are there for the opening of the Metro, accompany Hitler on a flying visit to the French capital – and much more besides.
Entertaining and illuminating, and written with Graham Robb’s customary attention to detail – and, indeed, the unusual – Parisians is both history and travel guide, yet also part memoir, part mystery. A book unlike any other, it is at once a book to read from cover to cover, to lose yourself in, to dip in and out of at leisure, and a book to return to again and again – rather like the city itself, in fact.
'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' - Hugh MacDonald, Sunday Herald
'Marvellously entertaining, boundlessly energetic and original... Ingenious... 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
'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
'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
'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
'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