City of Light's Dark Side

FRED DUFOUR / AFP-GETTY IMAGES

TOUGH TOWN: Street violence in a Paris suburb earlier this year

Ah, Paris. City of Light. Crucible of democracy. Fountainhead of fine cuisine, elegant architecture, stylish women. And — as Andrew Hussey notes in his sprawling and energetic new biography of the burg — a cesspool of crime, prostitution, wanton slaughter and appalling sanitation. Paris may be the world's favorite city, but few of the 25 million annual visitors realize that its handsome streets are paved with blood and merde.

Hussey, a British lecturer in French literature, spares none of those humors. For most of its 20 centuries, he writes in Paris: The Secret History, the city was little...

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