June 18, 2015

Review | When Paris Went Dark by Ronald C. Rosbottom

Title: When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944
Author: Ronald C. Rosbottom
Publication Date: August 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The spellbinding and revealing chronicle of Nazi-occupied Paris

On June 14, 1940, German tanks entered a silent and nearly deserted Paris. Eight days later, France accepted a humiliating defeat and foreign occupation. Subsequently, an eerie sense of normalcy settled over the City of Light. Many Parisians keenly adapted themselves to the situation-even allied themselves with their Nazi overlords. At the same time, amidst this darkening gloom of German ruthlessness, shortages, and curfews, a resistance arose. Parisians of all stripes-Jews, immigrants, adolescents, communists, rightists, cultural icons such as Colette, de Beauvoir, Camus and Sartre, as well as police officers, teachers, students, and store owners-rallied around a little known French military officer, Charles de Gaulle. 

WHEN PARIS WENT DARK evokes with stunning precision the detail of daily life in a city under occupation, and the brave people who fought against the darkness. Relying on a range of resources—memoirs, diaries, letters, archives, interviews, personal histories, flyers and posters, fiction, photographs, film and historical studies—Rosbottom has forged a groundbreaking book that will forever influence how we understand those dark years in the City of Light.



A must for history lovers, especially those who can’t resist the allure of Paris. I found this book on GoodReads and grabbed a copy from the library. The depictions of Paris are stunning, but the story of the City of Light under occupation was both strange and fascinating. The strange denial and forced normalcy of the remaining citizens cast an odd pall over Paris that lasted throughout the war.


I was disappointed that Rosbottom stayed within the psychological story of Paris’ occupation. He doesn’t delve into the darker history, like the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, instead focusing on the Germans’ fascination and tourism with Paris. I didn’t know about Germany’s infatuation with the City of Light, which was fascinating, but I wanted to know it all, from the good to the ugly. Rosbottom’s When Paris Went Dark more often than not focused on the good/not-so-bad. 


Rosbottom’s ancedotes were interesting, but they occasionally weren’t enough to pick up some of the more dry parts. Hitler’s tour of Paris to be the most fascinating story included in When Paris Went Dark because it showed the complexity of his personality and mindset. Rosbottom’s depiction of Hitler as a conqueror and a tourist is such a fascinating combination, making me see Paris in an entirely different light.


To be fair, to truly enjoy this book, one must be interested in this topic. This isn’t an overview: it’s an in-depth, detailed look at Paris under occupation only. However, When Paris Went Dark is an interesting read, one that has little tidbits of history that isn’t commonly taught in our history classes. 


Posted June 18, 2015 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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