The best book about France in the Second World War

Robert Gildea Author Of Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation
By Robert Gildea

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.

The books I picked & why

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Strange Defeat

By Marc Bloch,

Book cover of Strange Defeat

Why 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.


Journal à quatre mains

By Benoîte Groult, Flora Groult,

Book cover of Journal à quatre mains

Why 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.


Suite Française

By Irene Nemirovsky,

Book cover of Suite Française

Why 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.


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

By Carmen Callil,

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

Why 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.


The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944

By Arthur Goldhammer (translator), Henry Rousso,

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

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, World War 2, and the German occupation of Europe?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, World War 2, and the German occupation of Europe.

France Explore 587 books about France
World War 2 Explore 975 books about World War 2
The German Occupation Of Europe Explore 43 books about the German occupation of Europe

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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