I heard an interview with Graham Robb on NPR's Weekend Edition about his recently published book, Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris. NPR said, "In Graham Robb's new book...the past comes to you in thundering whispers and haunting asides. You never know by name who's speaking, but you do. It's history as a great masked ball of revelations. None of this is fiction but it reads like the most thrilling of novels...I thought it was just magnificent."
A young artillery lieutenant, strolling through the Palais-Royal, observes disapprovingly the courtesans plying their trade. A particular woman catches his eye; nature takes its course. Later that night Napoleon Bonaparte writes a meticulous account of his first sexual encounter. An aristocratic woman, fleeing the Louvre, takes a wrong turn and loses her way in the nameless streets of the Left Bank. For want of a map—there were no reliable ones at the time—Marie-Antoinette will go to the guillotine. Baudelaire, Baron Haussmann, the real-life Mimi of La Bohème, Proust, Charles de Gaulle (who is suspected of having faked an assassination attempt on himself in Notre Dame)—these and many more are Robb’s cast of characters. The result is a resonant, intimate history with the power of a great novel.