Books

Book Review of The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter

A reader could be forgiven if, just a few chapters into The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, he or she were to lower the book and ask, “Wait: where are the walks?” As it turns out, John Baxter’s loving homage to the charming, winding streets of Paris is not so much a book recommending where to walk, but the je ne sais quoi of the walk. An Australian expatriate who has lived in Paris for 20 years, Baxter’s book brims with the flavors, scents, modern myths, and personal anecdotes of Parisian street culture.

Indeed, the book might well have been titled The Accidental Literary Tour Guide. An aficionado of the literary giants whose close ties to his adoptive city are legendary – among them Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce – Baxter finds himself gently shanghaied into leading literary tours in Paris. Wary of lulling his clients to sleep with dates and names, Baxter quickly realizes that his tourists “didn’t want their Paris. They wanted mine. Plenty of time when they got home to read Flaubert or a history of the French Revolution. What they wanted now was to reach out and touch the living flesh – to devour and be devoured.”

As a result, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World is less a “how to” guidebook and more a thought-provoking stroll with a historian friend. Whether admiring an antique shop’s unique opium pipe, browsing art galleries for a Matisse, walking in the historic footsteps of a serial killer, or drinking absinthe with a trio of Texan ladies on their first excursion outside the U.S., Baxter’s walks are graceful, intimate anecdotes, providing a spectrum of luminous glimpses into the heart of one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world.