The best book about France in the Second World War

Who am I?

I am a historian of France, seduced since I did an exchange with a French family aged fourteen and was a student in Paris in my gap year, aged eighteen, in the aftermath of 1968. Since then I have been fascinated by the tension between la France profonde and revolutionary France. France in the Second World War is a wonderful place to study both, shattered by defeat, foreign occupation and division, and generating huge amounts of literature and film, myth-making, historical research and controversy.


I wrote...

Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation

By Robert Gildea,

Book cover of Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation

What is my book about?

In France, the German occupation is called simply the "dark years." There were only the "good French" who resisted and the "bad French" who collaborated. Marianne in Chains, a broad and provocative history drawing on previously unseen archives, firsthand interviews, diaries, and eyewitness accounts, uncovers the complex truth of the time. Robert Gildea's groundbreaking study reveals the everyday life in the heart of occupied France; the pressing imperatives of work, food, transportation, and family obligations that led to unavoidable compromise and negotiation with the army of occupation.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Strange Defeat

Robert Gildea Why did I love this book?

An extraordinary account of the fall of France by a leading historian of the time, written in its aftermath. Both a first-person account of the debacle and a profound meditation on the structural problems of French state, army and society that led to defeat. All the more moving because Bloch was removed from his academic post as a Jew by Vichy and shot by the Germans as a resister in 1944.

By Marc Bloch,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Strange Defeat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A renowned historian and Resistance fighter - later executed by the Nazis - analyzes at first hand why France fell in 1940. Marc Bloch wrote Strange Defeat during the three months following the fall of France, after he returned home from military service. In the midst of his anguish, he nevertheless "brought to his study of the crisis all the critical faculty and all the penetrating analysis of a first-rate historian" (Christian Science Monitor). Bloch takes a close look at the military failures he witnessed, examining why France was unable to respond to attack quickly and effectively. He gives a…


Book cover of Journal à quatre mains

Robert Gildea Why did I love this book?

A funny and moving account of life in occupied Paris by two young sisters, one sensible and studious, the other fun-loving. Written in diary form by each sister in turn, hence the ‘four hands’. Some signs of touching up with hindsight before publication in 1962. There is an English translation, ‘Diary in duo’ (1965) but currently out of print.

By Benoîte Groult, Flora Groult,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journal à quatre mains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nouvelle édition en 2002


Book cover of Suite Française

Robert Gildea Why did I love this book?

This made a huge splash when it was first published in 2004, with some controversy over its fact/fiction status and how to read it. Written by a novelist of Russian-Jewish background, it moves from the exodus from Paris as German forces approached in 1940 to life under German occupation in provincial France. It is the more poignant because Némirovsky was deported and died in Auschwitz in August 1942. Made into a film in 2014.

By Irene Nemirovsky,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Suite Française as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1941, Irene Nemirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through, not in terms of battles and politicians, but by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. She did not live to see her ambition fulfilled, or to know that sixty-five years later, "Suite Francaise" would be published for the first time, and hailed as a masterpiece. Set during a year that begins with France's fall to the Nazis in June 1940 and ends with Germany turning its attention to Russia, "Suite Francaise" falls…


Book cover of Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France

Robert Gildea Why did I love this book?

A wonderful and troubling piece of historical sleuth-work by the founder of Virago press, who went to see her therapist in London as usual in September 1970 only to find that she had committed suicide. It turned out that she was the daughter of Vichy’s Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, a failed businessman who was promoted into a position to eliminate as many Jews in France as possible. A real-time account of the banality of evil.

By Carmen Callil,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bad Faith as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This brilliant book tells the story of one of history s most despicable villains and conmen Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, Nazi collaborator and Commissioner for Jewish Affairs , who managed the Vichy government s dirty work, controlling its Jewish population. orn into an established, politically moderate family, Louis Darquier ( de Pellepoix was a later affectation) proceeded from modest beginnings to dissemble his way to power, continually reinventing himself in conformity with an obsession with racial purity and the latent anti-Semitism of the French Catholic Church. He was the ultimate chancer- always broke, always desperate for attention, social cachet, women…


Book cover of The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944

Robert Gildea Why did I love this book?

A path-breaking book on how the puppet Vichy regime of 1940-44 was remembered in France in the decades after it vanished. It shows how collective memory and commemoration shapes and is shaped by rival political cultures and changes over time. It could do with updating beyond 1990 – something I have tried to do in my own work.

By Henry Rousso, Arthur Goldhammer (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Vichy Syndrome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Liberation purges to the Barbie trial, France has struggled with the memory of the Vichy experience: a memory of defeat, occupation, and repression. In this provocative study, Henry Rousso examines how this proud nation-a nation where reality and myth commingle to confound understanding-has dealt with les annees noires. Specifically, he studies what the French have chosen to remember-and to conceal.


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Quick Bright Things

By Michael Golding,

Book cover of Quick Bright Things

Michael Golding Author Of A Poet of the Invisible World

New book alert!

Who am I?

It took me awhile to understand that I was on a spiritual path. I started out as an actor, and working in the theater brought me joy. But as time passed, and I turned to writing novels, the same questions kept emerging: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” I began to see that I was on a spiritual journey. With A Poet of the Invisible World, I finally felt ready to write about that journey. Nouri’s adventures chart the twists and turns—as well as the deep rewards—of the spiritual path. It’s a book that’s very close to my heart.

Michael's book list on accompanying you on your spiritual journey

What is my book about?

This delightful fable about the Golden Age of Broadway unfolds the warm story of Artie, a young rehearsal pianist, Joe, a visionary director, and Carrie, his crackerjack Girl Friday, as they shepherd a production of a musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream towards opening night. 

Drawn from the personal experiences of its author, it's a glittering love letter to the Great White Wayand all the crazy, gifted people who keep it humming.

Quick Bright Things

By Michael Golding,

What is this book about?

This is a delightful fable about the Golden Age of Broadway. It follows Artie, a young rehearsal pianist, Joe, a visionary director, and Carrie, his crackerjack Girl Friday, as they shepherd a production of a musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream towards opening night.

Drawn from the personal experiences of its author, this is a glittering love letter to the Great White Way, and all the crazy, gifted people who keep it humming.


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Interested in France, the German occupation of Europe, and Paris?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, the German occupation of Europe, and Paris.

France Explore 857 books about France
The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 68 books about the German occupation of Europe
Paris Explore 340 books about Paris