I finished listening to the audiobook, and immediately ordered a hard copy of this book for the photographs in it and further study. If you love Paris, or would like to have a better understanding of how it became what it is today, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
From the ragpickers to the flaneurs, from Montmartre to the "Zone" to Belleville, there is an incredible depth here to bring the city of yesterday to life. We learn about barricades, the prisons, the anarchists, the pamphleteers, the lorettes, the artists, the writers, the filth. Sante is not shy about explaining stuff, and it gets fairly earthy, but his writing style and depth of knowledge allows him to move through the rougher material with ease, and before you know it we're back to more pedestrian topics, like political corruption. It's also fascinating to see the parallels to the values and customs in today's France, formed from centuries of spirited public involvement, both in terms of productive discourse but also in a willingness to revolt and protest in the street.
This book is a great counterpoint to another recent book, The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino, which has been mentioned on the Forum. Where Sante dwells on the past and the largely unclean side of Paris, Sciolino's book is all about one street and all the wonderful things a tourist can find there today. To be fair it's more than that, but reading one right after the other has been interesting.
If you listen to audiobooks, the narration by Sante of his book is much better than Sciolino's narration of hers. Born in Belgium and comfortable in his skin, he reads his words with conviction, and an authentic French accent (on French names and phrases) that adds much to the drama. I do think Elaine Sciolino would have done well to hire a pro, but her book is well worth it, tons of stories and interesting facts about a very old, very popular street-not to mention excellent history on Notre Dame de Lorette.