The secrets of the City of Light, revealed in the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten—by the author of the acclaimed The Discovery of France.
[The] stories themselves are unforgettable. I was fascinated by the tale of how Madame Émile Zola discovered her husband's infidelity and summoned the courage to create an unusual family (with 21th-century outlines) with real kindness and without rancor. Likewise, Hitler's visit to Paris, juxtaposed with the experiences of Jewish children during the war, kept me awake thinking about the kinds of facts we label history. Another chapter tells how Senator François Mitterrand won fame in 1959 (some twenty-two years before being elected president of France) as a leading champion of the fight against right-wing terrorism, after he survived an assassination attempt -- only to be exposed as a fraud who made up the bogus assassination himself. Not for the first time, I found myself thinking, "Who knew?"
Frankly, these stories often read as if O. Henry had been let loose in the Paris archives. I like reading O. Henry's stories, and I daresay that most people curious about history, Paris, or mysterious tales will love this book. Like Paris itself, it's intoxicating, and hard to leave behind.