The best books on the French Revolution and Napoleon

Munro Price Author Of Napoleon: The End of Glory
By Munro Price

Who am I?

I’m a historian who has been researching and writing on the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars for thirty-five years now. Since the age of ten I have been fascinated by these years, partly through childhood holidays in France, but also because of their sheer drama. British history in the same period has nothing to compare with the storming of the Bastille or Napoleon’s meteoric career. Specializing in this turbulent era has made me particularly interested in how regimes fall, and whether under different circumstances they could have survived.

I wrote...

Book cover of Napoleon: The End of Glory

What is my book about?

Most people think Napoleon’s fall came in 1815 at Waterloo, but my book focuses instead on the crucial yet neglected two years that came before, between his disastrous retreat from Moscow in 1812 and his first abdication and exile in 1814. Even after the Russian disaster, I argue, Napoleon still had a good chance of keeping his throne and much of his empire, but instead rejected compromise peace offers from his opponents, and preferred to gamble on total victory at the risk of total defeat. Why he chose this fatal path has always been controversial, but in my book, based on new archival discoveries, I set out answers of my own.

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The books I picked & why

Interpreting the French Revolution

By François Furet, Elborg Forster (translator),

Book cover of Interpreting the French Revolution

Why did I love this book?

This is not an easy read, but it is a seminal work by the greatest modern historian of the French Revolution, which made an enormous impression on me when I first read it as a student in the 1980s. It marked a decisive break with what up until then had been the standard view of the Revolution as a class struggle. For Furet, the Revolution’s real importance lay elsewhere, as the first modern experiment with democracy – in his eloquent words, "a beginning and a haunting vision of that beginning."

By François Furet, Elborg Forster (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Interpreting the French Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The French Revolution is an historical event unlike any other. It is more than just a topic of intellectual interest: it has become part of a moral and political heritage. But after two centuries, this central event in French history has usually been thought of in much the same terms as it was by its contemporaries. There have been many accounts of the French Revolution, and though their opinions differ, they have often been commemorative or anniversary interpretations of the original event. The dividing line of revolutionary historiography, in intellectual terms, is therefore not between the right and the left,…

Book cover of To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII

Why did I love this book?

Well over 200,000 books have been written about Napoleon, but this recent work actually manages to say something new by focusing on an aspect of his reign that has been oddly neglected – at least in the English-speaking world – his tense and turbulent relations with the Pope, Pius VII, which ended with the Pope’s kidnapping from Rome by French forces in 1809 and imprisonment in France. Though bullied, browbeaten, and even once physically manhandled by Napoleon, the elderly Pontiff steadfastly refused to make the concessions to the secular power that his captor demanded from him. Ambrogio Caiani not only brings vividly to life an extraordinary clash of personalities, but also a key episode in one of the great conflicts that has shaped the modern world: the rivalry between church and state.

By Ambrogio A. Caiani,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked To Kidnap a Pope as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking account of Napoleon Bonaparte, Pope Pius VII, and the kidnapping that would forever divide church and state

"In gripping, vivid prose, Caiani brings to life the struggle for power that would shape modern Europe. It all makes for a historical read which is both original and enjoyable."-Antonia Fraser, author of Marie Antoinette

"The story of the struggle, fought with cunning, not force, between the forgotten Roman nobleman Barnaba Chiaramonti, who became Pope Pius VII, and the all-too-well-remembered Napoleon."-Jonathan Sumption, The Spectator, "Books of the Year"

In the wake of the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France,…

Book cover of 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow

Why did I love this book?

When I first read this book I found it unputdownable. It is a riveting account, based on a huge number of original sources and testimonies, of the watershed defeat of Napoleon’s career: his invasion of Russia, capture of Moscow, and the disastrous winter retreat that destroyed his army of half a million men. Its evocation of the accompanying horrors is often harrowing, but underlines one sobering and always relevant fact: the amount of human suffering the folly of one man can bring about.

By Adam Zamoyski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1812 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Adam Zamoyski's bestselling account of Napoleon's invasion of Russia and his catastrophic retreat from Moscow, events that had a profound effect on European history.

In 1812 the most powerful man in the world assembled the largest army in history and marched on Moscow with the intention of consolidating his dominion. But within months, Napoleon's invasion of Russia - history's first example of total war - had turned into an epic military disaster. Over 400,000 French and Allied troops perished and Napoleon was forced to retreat.

Adam Zamoyski's masterful work draws on the harrowing first-hand accounts of soldiers and civilians on…

The Life of Louis XVI

By John Hardman,

Book cover of The Life of Louis XVI

Why did I love this book?

The great strength of this book is that as well as offering a major reinterpretation of Louis, XVI, it is also a pleasure to read. John Hardman has pioneered the reappraisal of Louis that has been underway over the last twenty years. The unfortunate king has traditionally been portrayed as either reactionary or incompetent (or both). In place of this caricature, Hardman convincingly presents the monarch as a man of high intelligence who was prepared to make many more compromises with the Revolution than historians have allowed. In his view, Louis’ real weakness was not intellectual but psychological: crises of depression that paralysed him at crucial moments after 1789.

By John Hardman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life of Louis XVI as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A thought-provoking, authoritative biography of one of history's most maligned rulers: France's Louis XVI

"The definitive contribution to our understanding of Louis XVI as a man and a monarch."-P.M. Jones, English Historical Review

"Monumental. . . . Scholars probing the mysteries of the late Old Regime and French Revolution will be working in its shadow for many years to come."-Thomas E. Kaiser, Journal of Modern History

Louis XVI of France, who was guillotined in 1793 during the Revolution and Reign of Terror, is commonly portrayed in fiction and film either as a weak and stupid despot in thrall to his…

The Glass Blowers

By Daphne du Maurier,

Book cover of The Glass Blowers

Why did I love this book?

When most English readers think of a novel about the French Revolution, they come up with A Tale of Two Cities. In contrast, Daphne du Maurier’s The Glass Blowers is almost forgotten. This is unfair, because it is both a marvellous read and a painstakingly researched and remarkably balanced evocation of France’s upheavals from 1789 right through to the 1840s. It is a fictionalized history of Daphne du Maurier’s own ancestors, the glass-blowers of the title, and the divisions and tragedies the Revolution brought to them. A remarkable and moving book.

By Daphne du Maurier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Glass Blowers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Perhaps we shall not see each other again. I will write to you, though, and tell you, as best I can, the story of your family. A glass-blower, remember, breathes life into a vessel, giving it shape and form and sometimes beauty; but he can with that same breath, shatter and destroy it'

Faithful to her word, Sophie Duval reveals to her long-lost nephew the tragic story of a family of master craftsmen in eighteenth-century France. The world of the glass-blowers has its own traditions, it's own language - and its own rules.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the French Revolution, France, and Napoleon Bonaparte?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the French Revolution, France, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

The French Revolution Explore 109 books about the French Revolution
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Napoleon Bonaparte Explore 81 books about Napoleon Bonaparte

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Metternich, Russia Against Napoleon, and Napoleon's Men if you like this list.