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The Invention of Paris: A History Told in Footsteps

A radical guide to Paris through art, literature and revolution.
The Invention of Paris is a tour through the streets and history of the French capital under the guidance of radical Parisian author and publisher Eric Hazan.

Hazan reveals a city whose squares echo with the riots, rebellions and revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Combining the raconteur’s ear for a story with a historian’s command of the facts, he introduces an incomparable cast of characters: the literati, the philosophers and the artists—Balzac, Baudelaire, Blanqui, Flaubert, Hugo, Maney, and Proust, of course; but also Doisneau, Nerval and Rousseau.

It is a Paris dyed a deep red in its convictions. It is haunted and vitalized by the history of the barricades, which Hazan retells in rich detail. The Invention of Paris opens a window on the forgotten byways of the capital’s vibrant and bloody past, revealing the city in striking new colors.

Reviews

  • “Hazan has tossed aside the tourist brochures and unearthed a radical, hidden history of Paris at street level. Hazan’s range of cultural, literary and historical references is convincingly detailed; his grasp of radical politics is intellectually stimulating; and his revelations about how ordinary French lives dealt with tough conditions bring resonance to the “spirit of place and the spirit of time” in which complex urban issues rise and fall.”
  • “A wondrous book, either to be read at home with a decent map, or carried about sur place through areas no tourists bother with.”
  • The Invention of Paris is one of the greatest books about the city anyone has written in decades, towering over a crowded field, passionate and lyrical and sweeping and immediate.”
  • “Hazan wants to rescue individual moments from general forgetting and key sites from the bland homogenisation of international city development; he is also a passionate left-wing historian seeking to rescue the truth of Paris’s revolutionary past from the historiographical equivalent of Haussmannisation—the blasting through and laying waste to the lives and memories of the unimportant, the marginalised, the losers of the last two centuries.”
  • “Passionate and erudite”
  • “Thorough, intricate and estimable”
  • “Few will be able to resist ... Hazan's brick-by-brick account of the city's history of strife and political posturing is riveting.”
  • “[Hazan] stalks the capital, fulminating about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' artistic and political rebellions.”
  • “Do you want to be happy? Buy this book and take a stroll.”
  • “Not just a history book, but a guide to what makes Paris the melting pot it is today ... A wholly worthwhile read.”

Blog

  • "Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night" - an extract from Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London

    Extract from Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London by Matthew Beaumont

    In the dead of night, in spite of the electric lights and the remnants of nightlife, London is an alien city, especially if you are strolling through its lanes and thoroughfares alone.


    In the more sequestered streets, once the pubs are closed, and at a distance from the twenty-four-hour convenience stores, the sodium gleam of the street lamps, or the flickering strip-light from a soporific minicab stand, offers little consolation. There are alleys and street corners and shop entrances where the darkness appears to collect in a solid, faintly palpitating mass. There are secluded squares where, to appropriate a haunting line from a poem by Shelley, night makes ‘a weird sound of its own stillness’. There are buildings, monuments and statues that, at a distance, and in the absence of people, pulsate mysteriously in the sepulchral light. There are foxes that slope and trot across the road, in a single motion, as you interrupt their half-shameful, half-defiant attempts to pillage scraps from upended bins. And, from time to time, there are the faintly sinister silhouettes of other solitary, perhaps homeless, individuals – as threatened by your presence, no doubt, as you are by theirs. ‘However efficiently artificial light annihilates the difference between night and day’, Al Alvarez has commented, ‘it never wholly eliminates the primitive suspicion that night people are up to no good.’


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  • "We have to destroy and to build": Eric Hazan on Nuit Debout, the Invisible Committee, La Fabrique, and Houria Bouteldja

    This interview with Eric Hazan was conducted by Kévin Victoire for Le Comptoir. Translated by David Broder.


    (via YouTube)

    Le Comptoir: Opponents of the El Khomri bill [Labour Law] have been occupying Paris’s Place de la République for a week now [this interview was conducted on 7 April]. The movement has spread to a number of towns and cities. Is the insurrection finally coming?

    Éric Hazan: I don’t think that this movement can result in anything resembling the insurrection, such as we’re thinking about. The goal seems to be that of forming a type of Podemos à la française — that is, anything but an insurrection. That said, there are a lot of different positions among the people there. But if you think an insurrection is being prepared in Place de la République, I’d have to tell you that’s not the case.

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  • “Let’s bring the catastrophe to them!”—Frédéric Lordon against French labour reforms

    The French government's labour reforms will scrap the 35 hour week and strip workers of protection from arbitrary dismissal. Activists have been opposing the proposed changes since the start of March, in a series of huge protests across the nation. Frédéric Lordonauthor of Willing Slaves of Capital: Spinoza and Marx on Desire, addressed yesterday's rally in the Place de la République at the largest protest so far.

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Other books by Eric Hazan Translated by David Fernbach