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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Daniel Roche,

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

Why 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!

The Smile Revolution: In Eighteenth Century Paris

By Colin Jones,

Book cover of The Smile Revolution: In Eighteenth Century Paris

Why 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.

Journal of My Life

By Jacques-Louis Ménétra,

Book cover of Journal of My Life

Why 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.

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

By Clare Haru Crowston,

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

Why 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.

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

By Louise E. Robbins,

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

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, 18th century, and Paris?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, 18th century, and Paris.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Life in Revolutionary France, French Revolution and the People, and The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution if you like this list.