Reading Paris


In order to write about Paris, I find I have to read a lot about it too. Walking the streets and visiting the galleries are simply not enough. I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite non-fiction books about Paris in case you’re interested too.

In my spare reading time I mostly like researching the expat community. I am fascinated by the British and American community who thrived in Paris during the 1920s and fought valiantly in the 1940s. As such, these two books are among my favourites.

Expatriate Paris: A Cultural and Literary Guide to Paris of the 1920s – Arlen J. Hansen

This is an unusual book. It doesn’t tell a story in any kind of chronological or biographical sense but instead explores the city district by district, street by street, telling us who lived here and who stayed there. Who had affairs and in which hotels? In which cafes did Hemingway spend his time? It’s a really interesting read that opens up the 1920s in short moments, sometimes so pristine I can imagine myself there. Hansen lets us know if the buildings still exist or if they had been demolished/replaced by the time the book was written in 1990. Some of the spots are standing today so if you’re interested in a living, breathing history of the ’20s, this could be the one for you.


Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation – Charles Glass

I’ve mentioned this book on here before (in my previous post about superstar and Resistance hero, Josephine Baker). It details the trials and tribulations of the American community during the Second World War and is an enthralling read, amazingly detailed and researched. Glass tells the story of the community in chronological order, starting in Spring 1939. The vast majority of the American population had left Paris by the time war broke out in 1939 but the 5,000 who remained lived in incredibly difficult times. This book tells their stories. How did they protect their shops, libraries, churches? To what lengths did this community go to help save France from the Nazis and how did staying in the city impact their lives?


In short, both of these are a brilliant read and essential purchases for me. I’d definitely recommend them to anyone interested in the history of the Parisian expat community and the history of the city.


7 responses to “Reading Paris

  1. Thanks for sharing that. I would also recommend ‘Parisians’ by Graham Robb – slightly quirky and giving insights into small but important events such as the Haussmann clearances and Hitler’s dawn tour of Paris.

    • Yes I love that one too. Amazing how Robb tells 200 years of the history of the city in such an elegant way. I like how he talks through major events from individual perspectives – makes them more real somehow.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. I have just visited Paris – and might write some articles about the city. These books seem like a good idea to read first, to get a background and an idea how Paris was perceived from the outside.

    • Thanks for your comment! Am glad you found the post useful. These two are a great place to start but there are plenty more to choose from – it’s certainly a city that inspires people to write. I look forward to reading your articles.

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