cover image Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

Graham Robb, . . Norton, $26.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06724-8

With the same exhilarating sense of historical adventure and narrative elegance he brought to The Discovery of France , Robb's new book might be called The Discovery of Paris . Through a series of chronological episodes, Robb relates little-known events in the city's history, each featuring a fascinating figure, some well-known (Napoleon or the great criminal-turned-sleuth Vidocq), some less so (Henry Murger, the struggling writer whose Latin Quarter vignettes became La Vie de Bohème ). Each figure discovers or reveals an unknown Paris. In the 1770s Charles-Axel Guillaumot explored the ancient quarries beneath the city and built the catacombs there; a little-noticed carved panel at Notre-Dame is at the heart of a 1937 episode involving espionage, alchemy, and a future nuclear inferno. The most thrilling chapter tells the supposedly true tale (the original records are lost) behind The Count of Monte Cristo ; only the tale of actress and singer Juliette Greco framed as a shooting script fails to entice. With his profound knowledge of Paris, its treasures and squalor, its heroes and victims, Robb reveals a city of not only lights but darkness, which, though discovered, remains unknowable and alluring. (Apr.)