Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey - review by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

Plus Paris Change…

Paris: The Secret History


Viking 462pp £20

Paris is not what it was. But then it never has been. We may all have our own ‘real Paris’, the delight of our imaginations. Admirers of Richard Cobb (among whom I count myself) will know his essay ‘The Assassination of Paris’ and may share his dismay at the disappearance of so many familiar and loved landmarks, and at the transformation of the Marais into a tourist’s paradise, as a result of which, he wrote, ‘the quarter has lost all warmth and originality’. Perhaps so. We all have our moments of deploring embourgeoisement or gentrification, no matter where it takes place – Paris, London, Rome, Edinburgh; but really of course what it means is that more people are well off and the middle class is becoming larger. The warm life of the streets was a product of poverty.

A hundred years ago it was the fashion to deplore Baron Haussmann, who destroyed so much of medieval Paris and created the grands boulevards (Cobb, however, confessed himself to be a boulevardier). Andrew Hussey writes of Haussmann implementing his project ‘with a notorious ruthlessness and contempt for the intimate and

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