"Hussey highlights the ‘marginal and subversive’ in this entertaining cultural history. Chronicling the city’s development ‘in space, in time and on the street,’ he pays keen attention to traces of the past that persist in the landscape of the present, and delights in detailing the ‘hustlers, whores and heretics’ who fuel the beguiling chaos he portrays as endemic to the city . . . through his focus on ordinary inhabitants he manages, without being tendentious, to find unconventional perspectives on familiar Paris institutions and sights."—The New Yorker"A compelling history of the city on the Seine. Hussey observes that once humans arrived in Europe, the site on the Seine appears to have been continuously occupied. He discusses the Romans and their predecessors (Julian was the first to call the place ‘Paris,’ for the Parisii—of Celtic origin—who once lived there) and takes us through centuries of ensuing history in entertaining and enlightening fashion. All the familiar names are here: Clovis, Sainte Genevieve, Charlemagne, Abelard and Heloise, the Charleses and Francises and Henris and Louises (Louis XVI was, says Hussey, ‘a man without qualities’ with a ‘silly Austrian wife’), Napoleon, de Gaulle. And countless artists, novelists, poets, playwrights, philosophers and prostitutes. Hussey sees the ancient conflict between ideas and desires as key to understanding the city. He guides us through important French poetry, novels, films, music—but also along the rivers of blood running in the streets in just about every century. He examines the long history of North Africans, Jews and other immigrants to the city. He wonders at the foul collaborations of many Parisians with the Nazis. Throughout, he endeavors mightily to focus on ordinary life, but he spends much time recalling the city's cultural history, as well—e.g., the building of Notre Dame, the arrival of the railway and Metro. An immensely readable, richly detailed and sometimes disturbing chronicle that explores much of the darkness in the City of Lights."—Kirkus Reviews"In this impressive, fascinating, and highly readable work of cultural history, Hussey traces the history of Paris in chronological fashion through the lens of the ‘underclass,’ i.e., what the 19th century called the ‘dangerous classes’—insurrectionists, day laborers, criminals, gypsies, prostitutes—and the ‘bawdy and rough’ areas they called home. He dispels certain popular myths, showing that there has never been any such thing as a ‘typical’ Parisian and that for its first 1000 years Paris was not a great or beautiful city. These two themes shape his history. Though Hussey eschews the salons of the Enlightenment, he nonetheless draws connections between ‘high’ and ‘low’ Paris, demonstrating how insurrectionary hatred and bitterness developed in the lower depths. His familiar stories of the 1789 Revolution, the reconstruction activities of Haussmann, and the passions of the Commune are enriched by his argument that palpable class and geographic divisions became a powerful psychological factor driving such events. This is a timely book, for Hussey observes that Paris is still being shaped by new arrivals who are playing a role in remaking the city yet again. Recommended for academic collections."—Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell College, New Jersey, Library Journal
Andrew Hussey is a cultural historian and biographer. His acclaimed biography of Guy Debord was published in 2001. He is the head of French and Comparative Literature at the University of London Institute in Paris.