100 books like La Dame d'Esprit

By Judith Zinsser,

Here are 100 books that La Dame d'Esprit fans have personally recommended if you like La Dame d'Esprit. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France

Karen Offen Author Of Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870-1920

From my list on remarkable French women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by France and things French. In graduate school, no women’s history was on our required reading lists. As a young woman, though, entering a professional field in which women were few on the ground, much less studied, I became an avid reader of biographies of achieving women – partly to learn how they were able to surmount (or not) the obstacles that confronted them in a male-dominated world. The five stellar biographies of French women I present here are products of the newer work in retrieving women’s histories. They are deeply researched and engagingly written. They confirm the saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.”

Karen's book list on remarkable French women

Karen Offen Why did Karen love this book?

Before Trans is a triple biography of three very remarkable French women writers, all of whom preferred men’s clothing and behaved in unladylike ways. The three are Jane Dieulafoy (1850 - 1916), explorer and archeologist; the novelist Rachilde (Marguerite Eymery,1860-1953); and the erotic writer Marc de Montifaud (Marie-Amélie Charteroule de Montifaud,1845-1912). The distinctive feature of this provocative book is the author’s effort to understand these women who chose to defy the boundaries of femininity but lived in a world that was “before trans” – before what we understand today as transgender, where one’s sex and one’s gender self-understanding do not line up. It is a brilliant book, which one reviewer describes (and I agree) as “exceedingly well-written, layered, and compelling.”  Mesch’s pioneering triple biography is not to be missed.

By Rachel Mesch,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A fascinating exploration of three individuals in fin-de-siecle France who pushed the boundaries of gender identity.

Before the term "transgender" existed, there were those who experienced their gender in complex ways. Before Trans examines the lives and writings of Jane Dieulafoy (1850-1916), Rachilde (1860-1953), and Marc de Montifaud (1845-1912), three French writers whose gender expression did not conform to nineteenth-century notions of femininity.

Dieulafoy fought alongside her husband in the Franco-Prussian War and traveled with him to the Middle East; later she wrote novels about girls becoming boys and enjoyed being photographed in her signature men's suits. Rachilde became famous…


Book cover of The King's Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame Du Coudray

Karen Offen Author Of Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870-1920

From my list on remarkable French women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by France and things French. In graduate school, no women’s history was on our required reading lists. As a young woman, though, entering a professional field in which women were few on the ground, much less studied, I became an avid reader of biographies of achieving women – partly to learn how they were able to surmount (or not) the obstacles that confronted them in a male-dominated world. The five stellar biographies of French women I present here are products of the newer work in retrieving women’s histories. They are deeply researched and engagingly written. They confirm the saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.”

Karen's book list on remarkable French women

Karen Offen Why did Karen love this book?

Too many babies were dying at birth (or shortly thereafter) and French authorities had become obsessed with increasing the country’s population. Who would have thought, though, that King Louis XV of France would decide to sponsor and finance (for over 20 years) a remarkable Paris-trained midwife to tour France on behalf of the re-education of peasant midwives? As the King’s envoy, Angélique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray (born c. 1715) toured France from 1760 to 1783 carrying out her mission in some 40 cities and large towns.

Her important textbook on obstetrics, first published in 1759 (5 editions by 1785) and her invention of an obstetrical cloth female mannequin (she called it her “machine”) facilitated her revolutionary hands-on method of teaching the craft of delivering babies. Du Coudray was an imposing presence and a remarkable exception amidst the ongoing illiteracy and superstition that plagued peasant women. Nina Gelbart’s biography, the…

By Nina Rattner Gelbart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The King's Midwife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This unorthodox biography explores the life of an extraordinary Enlightenment woman who, by sheer force of character, parlayed a skill in midwifery into a national institution. In 1759, in an effort to end infant mortality, Louis XV commissioned Madame Angelique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray to travel throughout France teaching the art of childbirth to illiterate peasant women. For the next thirty years, this royal emissary taught in nearly forty cities and reached an estimated ten thousand students. She wrote a textbook and invented a life-sized obstetrical mannequin for her demonstrations. She contributed significantly to France's demographic upswing after 1760.…


Book cover of The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It

Marcia DeSanctis Author Of 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go

From my list on women in France.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a former television news producer who worked for Barbara Walters and Peter Jennings at ABC News, and at Dateline NBC and CBS’s 60 Minutes. I was always a journalist, but mid-career, I switched lanes from TV to writing. Since then, I've contributed essays and stories to many publications, among them Vogue, Travel & Leisure, The New York Times, BBC Travel, and others. I mostly write about travel, but also cover beauty, wellness, international development, and health. I'm the recipient of five Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism, including one for Travel Journalist of the Year. My book of essays, A Hard Place to Leave: Stories From a Restless Life comes out in May 2022.

Marcia's book list on women in France

Marcia DeSanctis Why did Marcia love this book?

If you have any interest in champagne—and who doesn’t?—this meticulously researched book about the woman who built Veuve Clicquot into the powerhouse luxury brand it still is today is essential reading. It is almost hard to fathom: in 1805, when her husband dies, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin inherits his struggling family champagne house. Plagued with debts and self-doubt, the twenty-seven-year-old widow, or “veuve”, puts her innate entrepreneurial acumen to work. Considering that women at the time had no role besides tending to their families, she defied countless odds of the day, rescued the company, and became a business legend. Swirling around her is the drama of the Napoleonic wars. One anecdote author Mazzeo (an academic and historian) tells grippingly: when Russia closed off their ports to French imports, Mme.

Clicquot identified a way to penetrate the blockade and get 10,550 bottles of her 1811 vintage to the czar’s home city of…

By Tilar J. Mazzeo,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Widow Clicquot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Veuve Clicquot champagne epitomizes glamour and style, with tribute paid everywhere from Lord Byron to Casablanca. But who was this young widow - the 'Veuve' - Clicquot, whose champagne sparkled at the courts of France, Britain, and Russia, and how did she rise to celebrity and fortune? Newly widowed, she assumed the reins of the fledgling wine business she and her husband started, steering it through huge political and financial reversals to succeed as a single woman in a man's world. Visitors flocked to see this cultural icon and taste the vintages she imbued with magic.


Book cover of Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography

Karen Offen Author Of Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870-1920

From my list on remarkable French women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by France and things French. In graduate school, no women’s history was on our required reading lists. As a young woman, though, entering a professional field in which women were few on the ground, much less studied, I became an avid reader of biographies of achieving women – partly to learn how they were able to surmount (or not) the obstacles that confronted them in a male-dominated world. The five stellar biographies of French women I present here are products of the newer work in retrieving women’s histories. They are deeply researched and engagingly written. They confirm the saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.”

Karen's book list on remarkable French women

Karen Offen Why did Karen love this book?

How does an American biographer write about a French philosopher and public intellectual who published copious memoirs of her own life, from girlhood to old age? The multi-talented Deirdre Bair succeeded in gaining access to the extraordinary Simone de Beauvoir and, supplemented by lengthy interviews over a five-year period and research in Beauvoir’s unpublished papers, produced a biography for the ages. In contrast to the biographies recommended above, the author had almost too much material to sift through, plus the challenge of writing about a living person. This is necessarily a fat book but one that is a “must-read.”

By Deirdre Bair,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Simone de Beauvoir was one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century, as a philosopher, feminist, novelist and author of the landmark work The Second Sex. Yet as Deirdre Bair shows in this definitive biography, de Beauvoir's remarkable life was dominated at every stage by another intellectual giant - Jean-Paul Sartre. Born into the French Catholic aristocracy, de Beauvoir became "the most notorious woman in France". Her scandalously unconventional relationship with Sartre and her dedication to his theories and his work is one of the most intriguing and contradictory aspects of her life. The two became, in de…


Book cover of How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City

Michelle Facos Author Of An American in Pandemic Paris: A Coming-of-Retirement-Age Memoir

From my list on Paris for foodies and historians.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began writing about Paris at age 7. It figured as the central location for my uncompleted novel (4 chapters), Mystry (sic) at Oak Hall Manor, undoubtedly inspired by public television’s French language program that aired daily at noon when I was a child and by tales told by my French Alsatian grandmother and her siblings. Paris was my primary destination on my first trip to Europe, and I’ve spent many extended stays for art history research (who can write about 19th-century French art without privileging Paris?), lecturing, and writing, as well as for hanging with friends, swing dancing, and just being in, for me, the world’s most wonderful city.

Michelle's book list on Paris for foodies and historians

Michelle Facos Why did Michelle love this book?

Not a repeat reader by nature, this book I have read three times, and keep a digital copy handy because I find myself consulting it when I’m in Paris. As a historian of 19th-century art, I knew modern Paris was the co-creation of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann; its many boulevards, department stores, parks, train stations, and now ubiquitous 7-story, white buildings with wrought-iron window grates emerged during the second half of the 19th-century. Professor DeJean persuaded me otherwise: that Henry IV made the first modern improvements: planned neighborhoods, tax incentives to encourage enterprise, streetlights, and Europe’s first stone bridge intended for spectating rather than commerce – the Pont Neuf had no buildings, just alcoves with stone benches for viewing the city from the Seine River that traverses it.

By Joan DeJean,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Paris was known for isolated monuments but had not yet put its brand on urban space. Like other European cities, it was still emerging from its medieval past. But in a mere century Paris would be transformed into the modern and mythic city we know today.

Though most people associate the signature characteristics of Paris with the public works of the nineteenth century, Joan DeJean demonstrates that the Parisian model for urban space was in fact invented two centuries earlier, when the first complete design for the French capital was drawn up and…


Book cover of The World of the Paris Café: Sociability Among the French Working Class, 1789-1914

Brian Cowan Author Of The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse

From my list on the history of coffee and coffeehouses.

Why am I passionate about this?

I went to college in Portland, Oregon when the Pacific northwest’s coffee boom was just getting started. My love of coffee turned academic as I began to research and write what would turn out to be a prize-winning book on the early history of coffee and coffeehouses in Great Britain: The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse (2005). I’ve continued to publish articles on coffee history and the history of sociability ever since, and I regularly teach a research seminar on the history of coffee at McGill University. Now I serve as president of the board of directors for an international research group on the history of sociability.

Brian's book list on the history of coffee and coffeehouses

Brian Cowan Why did Brian love this book?

Haine provides his readers with a solid social history of the French café in the long nineteenth century. While coffee was introduced to France earlier in the seventeenth century and cafés became a notable aspect of the social scene in Enlightenment Paris, it is only after the French Revolution that the café became a crucial place for working-class people to gather, socialize, and to drink (alcohol more often than coffee, as it happened) together. This is the book to turn to when you want to know how many cafés could be found in Balzac’s Paris, who got arrested for what in those cafés, and who could be found drinking and hanging out there.

By W. Scott Haine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The World of the Paris Café as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[Haine] invites the reader of The World of the Paris Cafe to step up to the serving counter of a nineteenth-century Parisian cafe to eavesdrop on the conversations and to observe the dynamics of this unique working-class establishment ...These cafes were far more than places to eat and drink to the great majority of working-class Parisians, who also frequented such establishments seeking shelter from authorities, exchanging and developing and sometimes enacting their ideas."-Jack B. Ridley, History: Review of New Books In The World of the Paris Cafe, W. Scott Haine investigates what the working-class cafe reveals about the formation of…


Book cover of The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement

Janet Hubbard Author Of Champagne

From my list on modern day France containing food and wine.

Why am I passionate about this?

I went to Paris the first time when I was nineteen. I was sitting in a cheap restaurant when a man entered carrying a burlap sack filled with escargots, and put some on my plate (all very unsanitary) for me to taste. Delicious! I was in France in the 1970s when Robert Parker was discovering French wine. (We didn’t meet then, but did after my series was published many years later.)  Subsequent stays in Paris and other areas of France (Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy) afforded me a food and wine sensibility that over decades has permeated my lifestyle, my friendships—and my writing.

Janet's book list on modern day France containing food and wine

Janet Hubbard Why did Janet love this book?

The description above segues nicely into The New Paris by Lindsey Traumata, published in 2017. Traumata now has a second book published, and hosts a podcast, and is popular on social media. I have spent at least a month (and sometimes three) in Paris annually over the past six years and think of Traumata’s first book as a good friend. She writes wonderful profiles of people, and she keeps readers updated about bistros, winemakers, new cuisine. Her writing is elegant, and I read her descriptions as avidly as I do a novel, constantly making notes. So different from the usual guidebooks.

By Lindsey Tramuta,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The New Paris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The city long-adored for its medieval beauty, old-timey brasseries, and corner cafes has even more to offer today. In the last few years, a flood of new ideas and creative locals has infused a once-static, traditional city with a new open-minded sensibility and energy. Journalist Lindsey Tramuta offers detailed insight into the rapidly evolving worlds of food, wine, pastry, coffee, beer, fashion, and design in the delightful city of Paris. Tramuta puts the spotlight on the new trends and people that are making France's capital a more whimsical, creative, vibrant, and curious place to explore than its classical reputation might…


Book cover of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Tyler R. Tichelaar Author Of Vampire Grooms and Spectre Brides: The Marriage of French and British Gothic Literature, 1789-1897

From my list on classic French gothic you probably never heard of.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been attracted to the Gothic before I even knew the term. From watching The Munsters as a child to wanting to live in a haunted house and devouring classic Gothic novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho and Dracula, I’ve never been able to get enough of the Gothic. After fully exploring British Gothic in my book The Gothic Wanderer, I discovered the French Gothic tradition, which made me realize how universal the genre is. Everyone can relate to its themes of fear, death, loss, guilt, forgiveness, and redemption. On some level, we are all Gothic wanderers, trying to find meaning in what is too often a nightmarish world.

Tyler's book list on classic French gothic you probably never heard of

Tyler R. Tichelaar Why did Tyler love this book?

You may know this book as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but you probably don’t really know it. Films, most notably the Disney cartoon, have grossly distorted this novel, often having Esmeralda ride off into the sunset with Phoebus. But the novel is really a very dark, Gothic story of love and lust, and one of the first existential novels. Frollo and Quasimodo both love Esmeralda, but she loves Phoebus, and he only loves himself. In the end, everyone dies, allowing their lust to destroy their common sense. Hugo wrote it to help popularize and save Notre-Dame Cathedral from falling into further disrepair. It influenced British author William Harrison Ainsworth to write The Tower of London, thus revitalizing British Gothic in a new way just as it did French Gothic.

By Victor Hugo, Lucy Corvino (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Victor Hugo's great story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame and his unrequited love for the dancer, Esmeralda. Classics Illustrated tells this wonderful tale in colourful comic strip form, offering an excellent introduction for younger readers. This edition also includes theme discussions and study questions, which can be used both in the classroom and at home to further engage the reader in the story.


Book cover of Colette: Earthly Paradise

Marcia DeSanctis Author Of 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go

From my list on women in France.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a former television news producer who worked for Barbara Walters and Peter Jennings at ABC News, and at Dateline NBC and CBS’s 60 Minutes. I was always a journalist, but mid-career, I switched lanes from TV to writing. Since then, I've contributed essays and stories to many publications, among them Vogue, Travel & Leisure, The New York Times, BBC Travel, and others. I mostly write about travel, but also cover beauty, wellness, international development, and health. I'm the recipient of five Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism, including one for Travel Journalist of the Year. My book of essays, A Hard Place to Leave: Stories From a Restless Life comes out in May 2022.

Marcia's book list on women in France

Marcia DeSanctis Why did Marcia love this book?

The first time I went to Paris, I found a copy of this book at a bouquiniste on the Quai de la Tournelle. I can honestly say it has never left my bedside. Colette, born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in 1873, was a ferocious talent, a novelist, memoirist, journalist, and colossal French cultural figure until her death in 1954. Earthly Paradise is an autobiography in essays, and hers is an extraordinary story. Born in small-town Burgundy, she was a showgirl at the Moulin Rouge, a traveling performer, was married twice, lived as a lesbian for a decade, had a facelift in the 1920s and at the height of her literary fame, opened a beauty salon in Paris. She was to the core a sensualist and though she claimed to dislike feminism, she was a tower of female strength. But the reason this book—just one of her fifty-five—endures is her achingly gorgeous writing.…

By Colette,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In her own lifetime, and especially outside of France, Colette was best known as a novelist, as the creator of Cheri, Gigi, Claudine; and as such, her place in the ranks of 20th century French fiction is secure and very high, comparable among her contemporaries perhaps to that of Proust. Over the same half century, she published an even larger body of explicit autobiography - memoirs, portraits, notebooks, letters. Barely a decade after her death, it became clear that this aspect of her work, and the personality embodied there, would determine her place in literature. Drawn from some 40 books…


Book cover of Village to Village: Misadventures in France

Jesse Fink Author Of The Eagle in the Mirror

From my list on books by Australian writers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in England to Australian parents and have lived most of my life in Australia. My family all live there, and I grew up in Sydney. Most of my books have been about Australian-related themes or historical figures. I don’t think enough is known about Australian history outside Australia. Australian writers have always struggled for recognition outside Australia. Publishing can be an unfair business. I’m more interested in reading nonfiction than fiction. True stories are much harder to write and get right, and there’s a bigger responsibility involved. You’re dealing with real people. The dead ones also have families.

Jesse's book list on books by Australian writers

Jesse Fink Why did Jesse love this book?

One of the original Aussie literary expats in the 1940s, Kershaw penned this slim but sparkling memoir of his time in Paris and rural France before his death in 1995.

It is superbly written and completely unknown. Grab a copy if you’re lucky enough to find it. It proves that books don’t have to be long to stick in the memory. Sometimes, the shortest ones are the best. 

By Alister Kershaw,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this witty and entertaining illustrated memoir, Alister Kershaw describes the pleasures of his prolonged residence in France - a country of villages - from 1948, when even Paris was a series of villages. In post-war Paris, Kershaw lived a penniless but joyous existence and captures a Paris long gone. The author conjures Paris prior to the triumph of the technocrats and town planners. It also traces the author's move into the Berry, two hours south of Paris, where he lives in a hamlet of six houses and finds a rural life amongst a small group of traditional Sancerre winemakers.…


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