Michael Dirda at The Washington Post:
“The Great Nadar” lacks the obvious commercial appeal of Begley’s previous biography, a capacious, revealing life of the novelist John Updike, so that it comes across as a labor of love. Yet the word “labor” hardly characterizes the suavity, swiftness and economy of its text. The book is a pleasure to read, though one could almost buy it just for the pictures.
Born in 1820, Gaspard-Félix Tournachon adopted “Nadar” as a nom de plume when he and his pals were struggling young writers and painters. Henry Murger would depict their hardscrabble existence in the novel “Scènes de la Vie de Bohème” (which later provided the plot for Puccini’s opera, “La Bohème”). According to Nadar’s friend Charles Bataille they lived in a dubious quarter largely populated by the kind of women who “were likely to lead you quickly and directly to the definitive goal of all human experience.”
Nadar briefly enjoyed the intimate companionship of Haitian-born Jeanne Duval, who later became Baudelaire’s mistress (and the subject of some of his greatest poems). Another of Nadar’s close friends, the poet Nerval, would walk his pet lobster in the gardens of the Palais-Royal, using a length of blue-silk ribbon as a leash. Nerval said he kept the crustacean as a pet because it did not make noise and because it knew the secrets of the deep.