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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 Hazan’s range of cultural, literary and historical references is convincingly detailed; his grasp of radical politics is intellectually stimulating; and his revelations about how ordinary French lives dealt with tough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

  • Appeal in support of the La Chapelle migrants

    A petition created on the initiative of the Collectif de soutien des migrants de la Chapelle, which has already been signed by a number of intellectuals and artists, including Verso authors Etienne BalibarEric Hazan and Sophie Wahnichcalls for a general mobilisation: "We will fight for them but also to defend our society, faced with this aggression by the public authorities. We are determined to make sure that the wrongs perpetrated against our migrant sisters and brothers are undone, and that in our country human dignity and the right to asylum are respected". Translated by David Broder.



    Many hundreds of migrants coming from various African countries, fleeing the untenable situations in their respective lands, had been living under the La Chapelle overhead metro station since August 2014, before the so-called "sanitary and humanitarian" measures carried out on 2 June 2015. Here we will not delve into the dirty details of this operation; but it meant that the migrants’ encampment was cleared out and entirely destroyed.

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  • Keeping the faith: Bensaïd's An Impatient Life reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement

    For Sudhir Hazareesingh, Daniel Bensaïd's An Impatient Life represents both a lucid overview of the French intellectual and political scene since the 1960s, and a tribute to the qualities that defined Bensaïd throughout his life: "an unflinching internationalism; a sensual libertarianism ... and a quasi-mystical faith in the redemptive potential of revolutionary action." This review was originally published in the Times Literary Supplement (20 May 2015).


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  • Chrono-cartography of the Paris Commune

    For Marx, the greatest achievement of the Paris Commune was its "actual working existence", and we should certainly not exclude its geographical organisation and defensive arcitecture from this category. Ahead of Kristin Ross' discussion with Alberto Toscano at Goldsmiths tonight on the political imaginary of the Paris Commune, we share a series of maps created by Leopold Lambert detailing the shifting architecture of the Commune over time. You can download a high-resolution version of the map here.



    From Lambert's essay:

    History tends to describe the city where events unfold themselves as a mere context, indifferent to the action that it hosts … I wanted to illustrate how the city, through its constructive, destructive and modificative logics plays a biased role in these historical events. As Karl Marx pointed out in The Civil War in France (1871), many things could have given the Commune higher chances to survive (a more organized offensive against Versailles in the beginning of its existence, the use of the Banque de France left untouched, a more comprehensive defensive strategy etc.), but the thing that the Commune has lacked the most is likely to be time itself, in an effort to transform and subvert the capitalist, imperialist and militarized logics that contextualized the urban fabric in which it was attempting to exist.


    For more studies the Paris Commune, see Lissigaray's classic The History of the Paris Commune of 1871 and Eric Hazan's The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps.

Other books by Eric Hazan Translated by David Fernbach