Long before I saw Paris with my eyes, I knew her in my heart through the images that have captured us all. When I saw the famous landmarks for the first time, though, they were more powerful than I had anticipated, especially the ancient and more silent ones. Well, at least they seemed silent until I began to read some amazing books that people with a passion for Paris had poured their life’s work into. I became one of them, falling deeply and passionately in love with Paris and the history of France.
For anyone who wants to know more about the world, and more about the stunning beauty of this city, how it came to be and why it is still here, I would suggest some of the following reading. It also will make your visit to Paris richer and, well, just amazing if you know what in fact you are actually seeing!
The series of three books Around and About Paris, by Thirza Vallois, captures the city completely through history and in reference to what we are seeing today. Each of the 20 arrondissements or neighborhoods of Paris is highlighted in its own chapter, with Thirza’s deep love and knowledge of the city filling the pages. Another fascinating book on Paris history, which becomes more and more interesting as you learn of it, is Seven Ages of Paris, by Alistair Horne. He takes you century by century through the ages and the people who shaped this wonderful city as we know it today. Even if you are not particularly fond of history, this book will enthrall you. Another book of Paris history that is a favorite is titled simply Paris, Biography of a City, by Colin Jones. It is also full of rich and intriguing history, and I love the reference in the title to the idea that Paris is not a place so much as a being that deserves a biography. Paris is a vibrant and living place, and knowing her history will make your visit fuller. Having said this, one book not to miss is Walks through Lost Paris, by Leonard Pitt. The journey of these walks will show you Paris as it was and as it is. Enchanting!
Books, which capture personal experiences in the city, are also a favorite of mine because they lend a peek into the corners and under the skirts, if you will, of this fascinating place, which most people will never know from a visit or two. To experience la vie parisienne in one of these books is to laugh, to cry and to know all of the joys and frustrations of life in Paris. Among my favorites are Time Was Soft There, by Jeremy Mercer, and Paris Hangover, by Kirsten Lobe. Both are written by authors with a knack for colorful description and who use their own personal experiences.
And on a final note, the women of Paris who have charmed and captured us all are featured in some wonderful books including Marie Antoinette and Love and Louis XIV, both by Antonia Fraser; Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Alison Weir; and finally, from the pen of someone who was actually there at the moment some of the richest history of Paris was being made, The Letters of Madame de Sévigné. To learn of Paris is to love her wholly.
Editor’s note: The author of this piece can construct a personalized tour of Paris for you and your group. Paris by Paris—how perfect!
Tags: Alison Weir, Alistair Horne, Antonia Fraser, Art/Culture, books, Colin Jones, France, history, Jeremy Mercer, Kirsten Lobe, Leonard Pitt, Madame de Sévigné, Paris, Paris Tannish, reading, Thirza Vallois, travel, women