The best books on the social history of eighteenth-century Paris

David Garrioch Author Of The Making of Revolutionary Paris
By David Garrioch

Who am I?

I fell in love with Paris when I first went there and walked the streets for hours. It wasn’t the Haussman boulevards or the Eiffel Tower that captured my imagination, beautiful as they are. Rather, it was the older quarters and hidden corners that fascinated me. I wanted to know who lived there and what their lives were like. When I got the chance to do a PhD, that’s what I chose. After years in the different Paris archives, I still never get tired of uncovering their secrets. I’ve written four books about Paris and have plans for more!

I wrote...

The Making of Revolutionary Paris

By David Garrioch,

Book cover of The Making of Revolutionary Paris

What is my book about?

The sights, sounds, and smells of life on the streets and in the houses of eighteenth-century Paris rise from the pages of this marvelously anecdotal chronicle of a perpetually alluring city during one hundred years of extraordinary social and cultural change. An excellent general history as well as an innovative synthesis of new research, The Making of Revolutionary Paris combines vivid portraits of individual lives, accounts of social trends, and analyses of significant events as it explores the evolution of Parisian society during the eighteenth century and reveals the city's pivotal role in shaping the French Revolution.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The People of Paris: An Essay in Popular Culture in the 18th Century

Why did I love this book?

A wonderful evocation of many aspects of everyday life in Europe’s 2nd biggest city. Who were “the people” and where were they in the social hierarchy? This book looks at the beginnings of a consumer culture: what did ordinary families earn and what did this enable them to buy. Where and how did they live? How did working Parisians dress, what did they read, how did they spend their holidays? It’s all there!

By Daniel Roche,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The People of Paris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In his collective portrait of the common people, Roche offers a rich and fascinating description of their lives--their housing, food, dress, financial dealings, literature, domestic life, and leisure time. Roche's highly readable style and use of contemporary quotations enliven the reader's view of eighteenth-century Paris and Parisians.

Book cover of The Smile Revolution: In Eighteenth Century Paris

Why did I love this book?

People have always smiled, right?  Wrong. Jones shows that in the early 18th century, open mouths were considered repulsive, partly because most people had terrible teeth.  He looks at dentistry in 18th-century Paris, at what the smile meant, at the reasons smiling became acceptable. But then it went out of fashion again, at least in public, until the 20th century. Brilliant.

By Colin Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Smile Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the smile has no history; it has always been the same. However, just as different cultures in our own day have different rules about smiling, so did different societies in the past. In fact, amazing as it might seem, it was only in late eighteenth century France that western civilization discovered the art of the smile. In the 'Old Regime of Teeth' which prevailed in western Europe until then, smiling was quite literally
frowned upon. Individuals were fatalistic about tooth loss, and their open mouths would often have been visually repulsive. Rules of…

Journal of My Life

By Jacques-Louis Ménétra,

Book cover of Journal of My Life

Why did I love this book?

The only first-hand account of life in Paris written by an artisan, matter-of-factly describing the city’s casual violence and bawdiness, the joys, and hardships, loves, and hatreds. Wonderfully translated, it captures a way of looking at the world that we’ve lost.  But also the thoughtfulness of a largely self-educated man who is loyal to family and friends, rejects conventional religious belief, and supports the French Revolution.

By Jacques-Louis Ménétra,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journal of My Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An eighteenth-century Frenchman describes life in Paris, the events of the French Revolution, and his own fondness for pranks and jokes.

Book cover of Fabricating Women: The Seamstresses of Old Regime France, 1675-1791

Why did I love this book?

Great on the opportunities and difficulties encountered by working women. Paris seamstresses had their own guild but struggled to maintain their autonomy. A lovely explanation of what they made, how the garment and fashion trade worked, and how individual seamstresses built careers in dressmaking, from apprenticeship to running their own business.

By Clare Haru Crowston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fabricating Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2002 Berkshire Prize, presented by the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians

Fabricating Women examines the social institution of the seamstresses' guild in France from the time of Louis XIV to the Revolution. In contrast with previous scholarship on women and gender in the early modern period, Clare Haru Crowston asserts that the rise of the absolute state, with its centralizing and unifying tendencies, could actually increase women's economic, social, and legal opportunities and allow them to thrive in corporate organizations such as the guild. Yet Crowston also reveals paradoxical consequences of the guild's success, such as how…

Book cover of Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots: Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Why did I love this book?

Animals were everywhere in eighteenth-century Paris: captives in menageries, pets in apartments, trained and displayed at fairs and in the streets, pitted against each other in bloody fights. Exotic parrots linked Paris to tropical Africa and the Americas. An entire guild sold only birds and small animals. Attitudes towards animals are extraordinarily revealing about any society, and this is a book full of insights.

By Louise E. Robbins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1775, a visitor to Laurent Spinacuta's Grande Menagerie at the annual winter fair in Paris would have seen two tigers, several kinds of monkeys, an armadillo, an ocelot, and a condor-in all, forty-two live animals. In Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots, Louise Robbins explains that exotic animals from around the world were common in eighteenth-century Paris. In the streets of the city, residents and visitors could observe performing elephants and a fighting polar bear. Those looking for unusual pets could purchase parrots, flying squirrels, and capuchin monkeys. The royal menagerie at Versailles displayed lions, cranes, an elephant, a rhinoceros,…

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