Graham Robb’s Parisians is a strange book indeed. It is ostentatiously clever, dizzyingly mannered, and idiosyncratic on the one hand, but also far-reachingly researched, deeply experienced, and evocatively summoned up on the other. It is like those trick drawings of cubes that in the twinkling of an eye go from convex to concave and back again. One moment the book reaches out to you in its incisiveness and panoramic fascination, the next it raises your eyebrows with its game-playing, mystifications, and one-upmanship, though the good easily outweighs the questionable.

Robb has published highly regarded biographies of Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Rimbaud. He also wrote Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century and The Discovery of France, about four years’ worth of exploring his favorite country by bicycle, which won several important prizes. But Parisians may be his most spectacular work...

 
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