The best books to read about the French Revolution without losing your head

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m not a trained historian (I received my B.S. in geology and spent my career in commercial banking). However, I grew up in Europe during the 1960s and developed a passion for history. I learned to write as a banker back in the “good old” days. I enjoyed it so much that I told myself, “One day, I'm going to write a book.” Well, that day came in Nashville when I was running a small company. Then I found Leonard Pitt’s book called Walks Through Lost Paris. As we walked through the streets of Paris, I turned to my wife and said, “I can write a book like this.” And so I did.


I wrote...

Where Did They Put the Guillotine?-Marie Antoinette's Last Ride: Volume 2 A Walking Tour of Revolutionary Paris

By Stew Ross,

Book cover of Where Did They Put the Guillotine?-Marie Antoinette's Last Ride: Volume 2 A Walking Tour of Revolutionary Paris

What is my book about?

Experience Marie Antoinette’s last ride (without losing your head).

Royals and revolutionaries collide in this volume that covers the remaining portion of this tragic historical era. Stroll through the very Parisian streets where the revolution took place. Visit exact locations where the guillotine once stood. Marie Antoinette’s Last Ride is the second in the series of walking tour books of Revolutionary Paris. You begin your first walk in Marie Antoinette’s cell and then follow the exact route her cart took to the guillotine located on the Place de la Révolution. In between, you will visit places like Robespierre’s apartment, the pharmacy where von Ferson bought his invisible ink to write love letters to Marie Antoinette, and the shop where Charlotte Corday purchased the knife to assassinate Jean-Paul Marat.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Women of the French Revolution

Stew Ross Why did I love this book?

Women played a major role in the French Revolution. Providing fuel for the core of the revolution, the female sans-culottes, poissardes, and other working-class women were instrumental in shaping the events and opinions of the revolutionaries such as Robespierre and Danton.

During the revolution, prominent women became agitators, hosted politically influential salons, led several major revolutionary clubs, wrote contemporary political position papers, organized and led women in para-military groups, and murdered key revolutionaries. The women of the French Revolution were no “shrinking violets.”

Ms. Stephens’s book is an excellent introduction to the various women who influenced the revolutionaries on a day-to-day intellectual basis. Madame Guillotine did not discriminate by gender⏤many of these women ultimately lost their heads.

By Winfred Stephens,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the "public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank…


Book cover of Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Stew Ross Why did I love this book?

This is a must read for visitors to Versailles Palace.

I enjoyed this book because Ms. Fraser has a wonderful writing style and she weaves the story of Marie Antoinette from start to finish and even though we know the outcome, it is hard to put down this book. The author’s research is quite detailed and written with little-known facts including Count Axel von Fersen’s role with the queen and her family, attempts to save the royal family, and the king’s failure to consummate the marriage.

You start out feeling sorry for the fourteen-year-old girl who is a pawn in a European power chess game. Soon you are appalled at the way the young queen conducts herself. By the time she reaches middle age, you begin to see her attributes as a wife and mother.

By Antonia Fraser,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The national bestseller from the acclaimed author of The Wives of Henry VIII.  France’s beleaguered queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous “Let them eat cake,” was the subject of ridicule and curiosity even before her death; she has since been the object of debate and speculation and the fascination so often accorded tragic figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted, privileged, but otherwise unremarkable child was thrust into an unparalleled time and place, and was commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in history. Antonia Fraser’s lavish and engaging portrait of Marie Antoinette,…


Book cover of Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution

Stew Ross Why did I love this book?

There has been much written about Maximilien Robespierre (in French and English).

I enjoyed Ms. Scurr’s biography because it is well-written, superbly researched, and represents a complete picture of the ruthless leader of the Jacobins and the French Revolution. The author paints her young bourgeois subject as the zealous revolutionary who demanded nothing less than complete devotion to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Responsible for the period we know as “The Terror,” Robespierre’s edicts were so severe that people lost their heads if even suspected of a “crime.”

As so often happens, what goes around, comes around. Robespierre’s downfall is outlined in detail and serves as a warning to political and other leaders whose extremist views are imposed on people.  

By Ruth Scurr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Robespierre was only 36 when he died, sent to the guillotine where he had sent thousands ahead of him. Only a few months before, this pale and fragile man, formal, anxious to the point of paranoia, steeled by deep-held principles, had held centre place in the new Festival of the Supreme Being, wearing his sky-blue coat and decreeing a new religion for France. Robespierre and the Revolution were inseparable: a single inflexible tyrant. But what turned a shy young lawyer into the living embodiment of the Terror at its most violent? Admirers called him 'the great incorruptible'; critics dubbed him…


Book cover of The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, a Life

Stew Ross Why did I love this book?

The story of Robespierre’s archnemesis, George-Jacques Danton, is not widely known (Robespierre and Marie Antoinette seem to hog all the attention). This is surprising considering the substantial impact Danton had on the revolution as one of its influential leaders.

Mr. Lawday portrays Danton as he was in real life: a very large and physically imposing man (if you don’t believe this, check out Danton’s statue next to the entrance of the Odéon métro station), quite an athlete (he kept in shape by swimming the Seine), and a natural leader (Danton was the leader of the Cordeliers, the primary competitor to the Jacobins).

Danton was a victim of the revolution and Robespierre. The Swiss-born constitutional monarchist, Jacques Mallet du Pan, wrote, “...like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” He was right.

By David Lawday,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the Western world’s most epic uprisings, the French Revolution ended a monarchy that had ruled for almost a thousand years. George-Jacques Danton was the driving force behind it. In the first biography of Danton in over forty years, David Lawday reveals the larger-than-life figure who joined the fray at the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was dead five years later.
To hear Danton speak, his booming voice a roll of thunder, excited bourgeois reformers and the street alike; his impassioned speeches, often hours long, drove the sans culottes to action and kept the Revolution alive. But…


Book cover of Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution

Stew Ross Why did I love this book?

Mr. Schama’s chronicle is considered the essential historical tome of the French Revolution. He presents the background and events leading to the revolution through its end when Robespierre was executed. The author leaves no stone unturned and many of the people, events, and outcomes have chilling similarities to our contemporary world more than 230-years later.

I like how Mr. Schama sticks to the facts. The reader is allowed to digest the events and reach their own conclusions. I think the lessons from the French Revolution are very fluid and every generation can learn from them.

At one point during the 1970s, Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai was asked what he thought was the significance of the French Revolution. He answered, “It’s too soon to tell.” I’m not sure I agree.

By Simon Schama,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the great landmarks of modern history publishing, Simon Schama's Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution is the most authoritative social, cultural and narrative history of the French Revolution ever produced.

'Monumental ... provocative and stylish, Simon Schama's account of the first few years of the great Revolution in France, and of the decades that led up to it, is thoughtful, informed and profoundly revisionist'
Eugen Weber, The New York Times Book Review

'The most marvellous book I have read about the French Revolution'
Richard Cobb, The Times

'Dazzling - beyond praise - He has chronicled the vicissitudes…


You might also like...

Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

By Felice Picano,

Book cover of Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

Felice Picano Author Of Six Strange Stories and an Essay on H.P. Lovecraft

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author

Felice's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Bold, funny, and shockingly honest, Ambidextrous is like no other memoir of 1950s urban childhood.

Picano appears to his parents and siblings to be a happy, cheerful eleven-year-old possessed of the remarkable talent of being able to draw beautifully and write fluently with either hand. But then he runs into the mindless bigotry of a middle school teacher who insists that left-handedness is "wrong," and his idyllic world falls apart.

He uncovers the insatiable appetites of a trio of neighboring sisters, falls for another boy with a glue-sniffing habit, and discovers the hidden world of adult desire and hypocrisy. Picano exits his boyhood sooner than most, but with this sense of self intact and armed with a fuller understanding of the world, he is about to enter.

Controversial when it first came out, Ambidextrous was burned on the docks of London in 1989 by Her Majesty Inland Service and decried by many. This reprint, with a Foreword by the author, discusses its banned book history and how it has become a classic depiction used by professionals involved in modern childhood studies.

Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children

By Felice Picano,

What is this book about?

Bold, funny, and shockingly honest, Ambidextrous is like no other memoir of 1950s urban childhood. Picano appears to his parents and siblings to be a happy, cheerful eleven-year-old, possessed of the remarkable talent of being able to draw beautifully and write fluently with either hand. But then he runs into the mindless bigotry of a middle school teacher who insists that left-handedness is "wrong," and his idyllic world falls apart. He uncovers the insatiable appetites of a trio of neighboring sisters, falls for another boy with a glue-sniffing habit, and discovers the hidden world of adult desire and hypocrisy. Picano…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, the French Revolution, and Maximilien Robespierre?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, the French Revolution, and Maximilien Robespierre.

France Explore 892 books about France
The French Revolution Explore 128 books about the French Revolution
Maximilien Robespierre Explore 16 books about Maximilien Robespierre