Poirier’s approach is cinematic ... There is incident and sexual intrigue on every page. Poirier spins several plates of the story at once ... Poirier moves easily between Paris, London and New York. She deftly assembles her characters in Brooklyn and Bloomsbury ... At times I did lose track of the dizzy sexual ronde and its various ménages à trois, quatre, cinq ... Poirier gives a useful cast of characters at the front of the book (I do like a crib), also a chronology and an annotated map of who lived, loved and danced where ... One small complaint: we never really get to the bottom of the significance of the Left Bank. We take it for granted that Rive Gauche stands for cool, alternative, bohemian. But why there and not the Right Bank, or Montparnasse? The introduction needs a beginners-start-here explanation of what combination of geographic, economic, social, historic, political and architectural circumstances made the Left Bank such a crucible of experimentation. Other than that, Poirier’s hugely enjoyable, quick-witted and richly anecdotal book is magnifique.
Carefully combing through an impressive amount of material, Poirier assembles the history of a decade in Paris as she tries to explain how these figures came to loom so large ... Poirier loftily extols the way Dior 'reintroduced glamour and luxury,' the way he 'invented a new sexy silhouette,' reminding us that Hollywood stars demanded to be dressed by him. This is typical of the way the breathless mythology of the era, to which none of us are immune, can obscure the way we see it. Poirier buys into the 'glamour and luxury' at moments like these, but who can really blame her? ... Far from romanticizing the American expat community, Poirier gives us some unflattering portraits of visiting writers ... As group biographies go, Left Bank lacks the weightiness of Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café. But Poirier excels on a different level, going just beyond the shallows without venturing into the depths. And it’s here that we can best observe the wonderful material details of history that have accrued beneath the waters.
Left Bank can be seen as the sentimental answer to Tony Judt’s Past Imperfect (1992), a solidly intellectual study of French thinkers between the years 1944 and 1956. Ms. Poirier scarcely tackles intellectual life at all ... The main strength of Left Bank is its political history, but Ms. Poirier lets Sartre off the hook too easily. He might have tried to establish a 'third way' party in 1948, in the form of the Democratic and Revolutionary Alliance (it didn’t get far), but by 1954 he was justly seen as a Soviet stooge ... Left Bank is an enjoyable trip around the famous sites, even if it is a bit of a tourist trip.