Do NOT Buy this "guide" to Pere Lachaise

As one who has spent hundreds of hours documenting the funerary sculpture and stories in Pere Lachaise Cemetery I was excited when I heard there was a new guide, in English, of the cemetery. After locating the website, I emailed asking for review copies of the book, titled Meet Me at Pere Lachaise, and the audio tour CD, both of which the authors provided free of charge. Unfortunately, right away I could see there were serious problems. Aside from the authors’ claim (on their business cards and on the website) that their book is the only guide to Pere Lachaise (not true), both the “guide” and CD suffer from several fundamental flaws.

At a slim 102 pages overall, with many of the pages taken up by photos, it’s terribly short. More to the point, the map is inaccurate, the mistakes indicate the authors are only superficially and vaguely familiar with the cemetery, the authors perpetuate at least one urban myth and some of the directions seem unnecessarily complicated (see, e.g., p. 55).

Overall the “book” struck me as little more than a string of blog posts cobbled together with some very nice photos but unfortunately backed up by very little serious research. You’ll learn nothing new or insightful about Pere Lachaise or anyone buried there that you couldn’t find on Wikipedia, www.perelachaise.com or any number of other easily accessible websites.

Even the audio CD is if little value: it provides no tour guidance, no discussion of the cemetery and is little more than a string of podcasts (some running less than a minute) about the 31 people covered by the very slim book. Each “podcast” costs a whopping 99 cents. Lacking on-site directions this is simply not worth the money.

The perplexing thing for me is how could such basic mistakes be made by people purporting to be experts on Pere Lachaise?

Since this appears to be an on-demand publication through one of Amazon’s subsidiaries (CreateSpace, I believe), you might see the following errors/mistakes corrected. One would hope so.

p. 4, Map – as you’re looking at the map, the Garden of Remembrance is actually to the right of the entrance, as you enter, not on the left as shown. The WC is located where the arrow is pointing and yet is not even noted on the map. You’d do better by downloading the free PDF map from www.candelabratours.com.

P. 4 & 5 & 97– Sarah Bernhardt, no. 23, is actually in division 44, not division 91 as shown.

p. 5, Table of Contents - of 31 people listed, 3 are, in fact, not buried in Pere Lachaise: Rossini, Bellini, Callas. Granted, this is not a mistake, since the authors do make this fact clear. But one wonders, why include them? For example, Instead of Maria Callas why not include the famous American author Richard Wright, who IS buried in the Columbarium? or Stephane Grappelli for that matter?

p. 11 – The claim that 3rd-party maps are inaccurate is unsubstantiated. My experience has been that the Editions Metropolitan is an eminently reliable and much more useful than the terse and vague official map. Moreover, there are free maps online that cover the most visited sites, e.g., at www.candelabratours.com.

p. 13 – last line of the 2nd to last paragraph, “Theirs” should be “Thiers.” Simple mistake but another indicator of the sloppiness of the copyediting

p. 15 – there are in fact five entrances not three: Rondeaux, Reunion, Repos, Principale and the tiny corner entrance from the Pere Lachaise metro stop.

p. 25 – Bartholome was a sculptor and painter.

p. 55 – According to Arthur Machen, translator of Physiology of Taste, Brillat-Savarin often spelled his name Brillat de Savarin.

p. 96 – “Toke” from “Alice B. Toklas” – really? Another disturbing sloppiness in “fact-checking” here. A simple review of Merriam-Webster or the Collins dictionary would have dispelled such puerile nonsense.

We all make mistakes. Such simple mistakes in this book are simply unacceptable in anyone claiming to be a “tour guide.” And the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay for them.

If you’re looking for superficial fluff and don’t mind spending $24 bucks on little more than random musings about 28 people who just happen to coincidentally be buried in Pere Lachaise, then by all means this book is for you.

If, on the other hand, you want a reasonably useful guide to Pere Lachaise in English, check out Permanent Parisians by Culbertson and Randall. That book too has a few inaccuracies but the authors provide four different itineraries of Pere Lachaise with much more robust content and the maps are better.

Note: this review has also been published on amazon.com.