391 books directly related to France 📚

All 391 France books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

By Caroline Moorehead

Why this book?

This fascinating book follows 230 women, some more in-depth than others, who were imprisoned outside Paris for crimes of resistance activities. I began reading it as research and became captivated by the stories, especially the devotion the women developed for one another. I felt a deep connection to each of the prisoners as I climbed into their shoes, cheering for them to survive while fearing they would not. (The Appendix lists the 49 who survived if you want to know in advance. I didn’t.) It’s difficult to grasp what they endured over an unimaginable period of time. Just the sheer…
From the list:

The best books on women during WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Suite Française

Suite Française

By Irene Nemirovsky

Why this book?

Nemirovsky never had a chance to finish what was to be a five-part series of novellas about life in France during the German occupation, because she was arrested for being Jewish and sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed. You might imagine that it would be hard for fiction to live up to such a dramatic backstory, but the two surviving novellas are beautifully written illustrations of a society facing catastrophe.

From the list:

The best fiction about women’s experiences of World War II

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine

By Marion Meade

Why this book?

This may not be the most scholarly book on this extraordinary woman; but it is by far the most readable on the only woman who married both a King of France and King of England, went on Crusade to Jerusalem, and civilized feudalism by sponsoring poets and minstrels and creating the idea of romantic love.
From the list:

The best books on the wine, food, and history of Perigord France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Discovery of France

The Discovery of France

By Graham Robb

Why this book?

Don’t be intimated by the academic-sounding title. This book just blew my mind. If you want to even begin understanding the French, you have to know where they came from. As Robb proves in this readable work, there is no better way to do this than by looking at French geography. France is a country that evolved out of surprisingly varied landscapes, ethnic origins, languages, and more. Understanding all the pieces of the puzzle, the great struggles that gathered them into a unified country, will forever change how you see the country.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the French

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Fields of Glory: A Novel Fields of Glory

Fields of Glory: A Novel Fields of Glory

By Jean Rouaud

Why this book?

This is the first book of a fictionalized family history, starting with the omniscient narrator’s maternal grandparents and paternal aunt, who are all born in the late 1880s: the World War I generation. The story takes place near Nantes, which until 1956 was part of Brittany, but then was administratively moved to a new department, the Loire Atlantic—though most people in Nantes and Brittany continue to believe the Nantois are Breton. As with many things French, the issue is far from settled.

Rouaud creates character through vignettes—and they’re wonderful: grandpa smoking; grandpa driving; grandma complaining about grandpa smoking and driving;…

From the list:

The best books about the magic of Brittany France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of A Gift from Brittany: A Memoir of Love and Loss in the French Countryside

A Gift from Brittany: A Memoir of Love and Loss in the French Countryside

By Marjorie Price

Why this book?

A twenty year old American woman goes to Paris to paint, meets a French artist, marries, has a child, and together buy a farmhouse and make a summer home and art studios in rural Brittany: that story. A memoir. 

The book was published in 2008, but the story takes place in the early 1960s when rural Brittany was closer to the 19th century than the 21st. I was in Paris in 1967, and it was still possible to rent a hotel room for under five dollars a night, to travel in Europe for ten dollars a day.…

From the list:

The best books about the magic of Brittany France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Price of Water in Finistère

The Price of Water in Finistère

By Bodil Malmsten

Why this book?

In 2000, angry at the state of the world, a fifty five year old acclaimed Swedish writer, sells her home and most of her belongings, leaves her homeland, and drives west with no destination in mind. She’s alone, but not lonely, searching for peace and freedom and a break with the past. She stops where the land ends, at the end of the world, Finistère, Brittany, where she buys a house, meets Madame C, and plants a garden. 

“It’s so wonderful here that one should write a book about it,” she tells Madame C, and spends the rest of the…

From the list:

The best books about the magic of Brittany France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Memoirs of a Breton Peasant

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant

By Jean-Marie Déguignet

Why this book?

Jean-Marie Déguignet is not your typical Breton peasant. He’s small and puny—and these people aren’t built that way. At nine, a bee caused him to fall and hit his head, leaving an ugly wound that oozed for years and left a deep indentation in his skull when it finally healed. The result was a lifetime interest in bees and a lonely life, as no one wanted to be near him.  

A curious and isolated lad, he becomes an auto-diktat, and like many auto-diktats has lots of disparaging things to say about those who are less educated and more successful and…

From the list:

The best books about the magic of Brittany France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village

The Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village

By Pierre-Jakez Helias

Why this book?

Pierre-Jakez picks up where Jean-Marie Déguignet left off. This book is essentially a continuation of the story, a 20th century account of peasant family life in an area not far from where Déguignet lived a century earlier—except this book celebrates and revels and respects Breton culture, life, people, music, food, history, etc. It was published in 1975 and is part of the world-wide movement of identity politics, when ethnic groups, genders, religions, and nationalities are discovering their roots, history, beauty, and genius.

This book is a paean to Breton life and culture, and Pierre-Jakez becomes a cultural icon and…

From the list:

The best books about the magic of Brittany France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Wind, Sand and Stars

Wind, Sand and Stars

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Why this book?

This book, by the author of The Little Prince, is an autobiographical account of Antoine’s adventures during WWII – as a pilot, reflecting on the meaning and significance of life from a humanistic philosophy and how perceptions of life are shifted when you are tested to your limits. A good lesson for anyone grappling with their existence and purpose in life.
From the list:

The best books for making sense of our existence in the Universe

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

By Sonia Purnell

Why this book?

The Germans called Virginia Hall “the Limping Lady,” as she required the use of a prosthetic leg (“Cuthbert”). They also considered her the most dangerous of all Allied spies – male or female. The second female SOE agent sent into France, Virginia set up an effective network that (amongst other things) was instrumental in helping British airmen, shot down over Europe, escape and return to England.  

But what I found the most astonishing when I read Virginia’s biography, was how she didn’t let anything stop her. Not her disability. Not the Nazis. Not the Pyrenees Mountains, which she hiked over…

From the list:

The best books about the real-life, kick-ass female agents of WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Art of Eating

The Art of Eating

By Joan Reardon, M.F.K. Fisher

Why this book?

Whenever I feel a stab of nostalgia for my American childhood, I turn to M.F.K. Fisher, one of the most delightful food writers ever. The Art of Eating is a one-volume edition of six of her books, all written before I graduated from high school: it gives a funny and informative account of American (and other) eating habits before the great foodie revolution of the ‘80’s altered everything. It offers mostly food for the mind but the palate is also served by recipes I’d forgotten all about, often given both in their comfort food guise and in fancy dress.

From the list:

The best books about food catering to the plate, the eye, and the mind

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

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

By Lindsey Tramuta

Why this book?

Written by my talented friend, a Paris-based journalist for publications such as The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Afar Magazine, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine. Lindsey Tramuta has taken her journalistic curiosity and written a cultural study-meets-guide book for those who are wanting to explore Paris from a new perspective, from one of a true, modern Parisienne.

From the list:

The best books with a taste of France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of French Pastry 101: Learn the Art of Classic Baking with 60 Beginner-Friendly Recipes

French Pastry 101: Learn the Art of Classic Baking with 60 Beginner-Friendly Recipes

By Betty Hung

Why this book?

My apprentice, Betty Hung, who eventually inherited the bakery I founded, has written an award-winning recipe book on French pastries. It’s wonderfully photographed, well-tested and informative. I am always proud to see her create with such precision and success.

From the list:

The best books with a taste of France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France

Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France

By Rita Kramer

Why this book?

The story of four women agents from the SOE’s French section and their journey to a death camp in France is movingly told. They travel from different directions and come from different backgrounds but meet their tragic fate together. The book captures the spirit of resistance and their heroism.

From the list:

The best books on secret agents and espionage in WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop

By Nina George

Why this book?

This is a moving story of an eccentric bookseller who has his store on a barge. He seems to have just the right book to help each individual in their own lives while he is coming to terms with a past love and discovering more about himself and life. He also visits many lovely French villages on his travels on the barge.

From the list:

The best books set in France and recommended by a Francophile

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse: A Cookbook

A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse: A Cookbook

By Mimi Thorisson

Why this book?

If you like to cook and love France this book with its wonderful photography is also a coffee table book. Just looking through it will transport you to the French countryside where I lived and worked and adore. The recipes are not convoluted and are simple and delicious.

From the list:

The best books set in France and recommended by a Francophile

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Chocolat

Chocolat

By Joanne Harris

Why this book?

Chocolat by Joanne Harris is a novel about the awakening of sensuality in a small French Catholic village in France, where change is largely unwelcome and conservative religious views govern behavior. Enter a stranger, a woman who indulges in witchery and bonbons, who opens a chocolate shop, and in so doing goes up against the local priest and alters the fabric of their society. The sumptuous descriptions of chocolate will turn just about anyone into a chocoholic. Chocolat has themes of religion, superstition, prejudice, and finding carnal enjoyment all blended into what so many readers consider a confection of a…

From the list:

The best sumptuous fiction about food, family and friendship

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Nightingale

The Nightingale

By Kristin Hannah

Why this book?

This is the best war-time romantic novel I’ve read since Gone With the Wind. Set in France during WWII, it’s the story of two sisters, one fighting for her and her daughter’s survival on the home front, the other joining the French Resistance. I couldn’t put it down and couldn’t stop thinking about it long after I turned the last page. The scenes, which take place in German-occupied France, make for a heart-stopping narrative, but it’s the relationship between the sisters that struck a chord with me.  It shows how two very different people can be alike and how…

From the list:

The best books about sisters that make you want to call your sister

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Guns of Normandy: A Soldier's Eye View, France 1944

The Guns of Normandy: A Soldier's Eye View, France 1944

By George Blackburn

Why this book?

Why two books instead of one. Well, because the two are equally excellent accounts that taken together span the combat service of a young Canadian artillery forward observation officer (FOO). The life span of many FOOs was short, the long antennas of the wireless sets they carried out front with the advancing infantry to call in artillery support were magnets for Germans snipers. But Blackburn beat the odds and survived to write this remarkably frank and honest memoir of eleven months of almost constant battlefield action. Over this course of a journey from Normandy through Belgium, the Netherlands, and into…

From the list:

The best books by Canadians on their World War 2 service

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of French Regional Cooking

French Regional Cooking

By Anne Willan

Why this book?

Willan is an Englishwoman who lived most of her life in France where she founded and ran the École de Cuisine La Varenne, in Paris and Burgundy. All her books are great, but this book is superlative, and I would put it in the same ranks as the Time-Life book. Its depth of knowledge and breadth is wonderful and there is much to explore and learn. The recipes are gems and work every time.

From the list:

The best books on provincial French cooking for home cooks

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Cooking of South West France

The Cooking of South West France

By Paula Wolfert

Why this book?

Wolfert made her name with her book Couscous and Other Food of Morocco, first published in 1973. This groundbreaking book was not only the first time an American writer’s topic was North African food but Wolfert explored for the first time its culinary anthropology. This book on southwest France might even be better than her couscous book. Its depth of understanding and explanation is amazing. Its thoroughness is unparalleled. Its fastidiousness might annoy some readers, but one will never claim there wasn’t enough detail. Follow this book and you will be able to make confit de canard to use in…

From the list:

The best books on provincial French cooking for home cooks

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of French Provincial Cooking

French Provincial Cooking

By Elizabeth David

Why this book?

David was one of the most famous food writers in post-World War II Europe and she introduced English readers to the cuisine that exists beyond the celebrated kitchens of the top chefs of Paris. Although the recipes are written in a more abbreviated style than one sees today, her personable stories enliven the dishes she includes so you the reader will excitedly jump right to the kitchen and get cooking.

From the list:

The best books on provincial French cooking for home cooks

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Traditional Recipes of the Provinces of France

Traditional Recipes of the Provinces of France

By Maurice Edmond Sailland

Why this book?

Better known by his pen-name Curnonsky, Maurice Edmond Sailland, was called the Prince of Gastronomy and was the most celebrated writer on gastronomy in France in the 20th century. Notice I say writer on gastronomy and not most famous chef or most famous cookbook author. What Curnonsky did was write about the whys and wherefores of the great provincial cuisines of France. If you think you know something about provincial French cuisine, Curnonsky will enlighten you with his explorations into the culture and geography of these various regions. The recipes in some cases will be unfamiliar and archaic, although no…

From the list:

The best books on provincial French cooking for home cooks

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of A Rifleman Went to War

A Rifleman Went to War

By Herbert Wes McBride

Why this book?

An excellent narrative of the experiences of a Canadian infantry officer who served in France and Belgium from Sept. 1915 to April 1917. There is a lot of emphasis on the sniping weapons utilized by the Allied forces during the early part of the war.

From the list:

The best books on America's crusade in the Great War 1917-1918

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Doughboys: The Story of the AEF, 1917-1918

The Doughboys: The Story of the AEF, 1917-1918

By Laurence Stallings

Why this book?

Stallings was there, on the frontlines, fighting. He was wounded, lost a leg. He received the Croix de Guerre from the French government and the Silver Star and Purple Heart from his government. Reading his book, you’re right there with the first Americans landing in France and then following them and those who came after right up until the armistice on November 11, 1918. He also published an award-winning photographic history of the war, wrote a novel about his experiences and, in 1924, with playwright Maxwell Anderson, co-wrote the famous play that twice was turned into a movie, “What Price…

From the list:

The best books on World War I and America's role in it

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War

Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War

By Martha Hanna

Why this book?

One of the very best books in English about France during this time, Hanna mines a treasure trove of letters between a married peasant couple from southwest France to tell an intimate history of the war, of its effects on families, women, villages, men, and the countryside. War stories take place on battlefields, of course, but also in homes and in hearts. Anyone wanting to understand the experience of the Great War at the front, on the home front, and everywhere in between, should start here.

From the list:

The best books on France and the first World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of A Very Long Engagement

A Very Long Engagement

By Sebastien Japrisot

Why this book?

Unable to walk since childhood, Mathilde Donnay never lets her limitations get in her way. She is on the search for her fiancé who was reported killed in the Great War, but whom she believes might still be alive. Mathilde is feisty, caring, strategic, and driven—all things I’d like to be.

From the list:

The best historical novels with kick-ass female leads

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Strange Defeat

Strange Defeat

By Marc Bloch

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.

From the list:

The best book about France in the Second World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Journal à quatre mains

Journal à quatre mains

By Benoîte Groult, Flora Groult

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.

From the list:

The best book about France in the Second World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

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

By Carmen Callil

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.

From the list:

The best book about France in the Second World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944

By Arthur Goldhammer, Henry Rousso

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.

From the list:

The best book about France in the Second World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Arthur Young's Travels in France: During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789

Arthur Young's Travels in France: During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789

By Arthur Young

Why this book?

Young was an English agriculturalist who took time out from farming to analyse life and developments in the countryside. He toured Britain, then Ireland, and finally France. Here, he lucked in. He wandered the fields, lanes, and city streets of France as the Revolution was brewing and then erupting. Although not an aristo himself, he frequented nobility and royalty, and was amazed at the blissful indifference of the idle rich about what was going on around them. He saw the extreme poverty of the peasants, who were being worked and starved to death by their absentee landlords. He witnessed the…

From the list:

The best books on why the French seem to be in denial about their own history

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Belly of Paris

The Belly of Paris

By Emile Zola, Brian Nelson

Why this book?

In the third novel of Zola’s twenty-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart, a man named Florent, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, escapes to Paris and becomes a fish inspector at the Les Halles market. Food and politics collide in the heart of the market, giving the reader some of the most vivid and delicious descriptions you’ll ever find on the page.

From the list:

The best novels about food

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Second Harvest

Second Harvest

By Jean Giono, Louis William Graux, Henri Fluchere, Geoffrey Myers

Why this book?

A bit of a cheat, this one. It’s probably my favourite French novel, precisely because it is timeless and seems to ignore everything about French history. I don’t think there’s one mention or symptom of the Revolution, no scar of the First World War, no French over-intellectualizing. It’s just nature and humankind going head-to-head in a brutally realistic, but starkly beautiful, Provençal landscape. By the way, I don’t like the English title – Regain means regrowth, the first signs of recovery. Personally, I’d prefer a title like Signs of Life. And this novel is all about a tiny hamlet in…

From the list:

The best books on why the French seem to be in denial about their own history

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of France and England in North America

France and England in North America

By Francis Parkman

Why this book?

When the deities dedicated to the history of the French and Indian War got together to recommend their own list of the best books on the war that made America, they made Francis Parkman’s multi-volume work required reading. And the good news is that even if they had not, it is worth diving into headfirst.

The French and Indian War is often overshadowed by the American and then French Revolutions that followed on its heels. Yet, neither of them would have ever happened without the completely lopsided British victory in the first. Parkman, writing in the Nineteenth Century, was among…

From the list:

The best books on the war that made America

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

By Caroline Moorehead

Why this book?

The story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon has become famous for its amazing story of harboring French Jews and others the Nazis deemed enemies as they tried to escape the German occupation. Moorehead re-examines a longstanding culture of resistance, community identity, and local leadership that made the town’s actions legendary. But her discussion of the complexities of memory and myth-making in the years that followed force us to rethink the boundaries and limits of both resistance and collaboration.

From the list:

The best books that will challenge how your think about WWII in Europe

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

By Beauvoir Simone De, James Kirkup

Why this book?

Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter is a classic. First published in France in 1958, it’s the opening volume of an autobiographical trilogy. This exploration of the childhood and young womanhood that created the world-famous writer and intellectual is compendious, descriptive – and alert at every turn, as befits the mother of existentialism, to how the emerging psyche understands the world around it.

From the list:

The best literary biographies

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of France Since 1945

France Since 1945

By Robert Gildea

Why this book?

The leading British interpreter of French history from 1940 produced this valuable guide to a period of major transformation in French history. Gildea has cogently argued that French politics reflects long-lasting divisions that play out in different mileux.

From the list:

The best books on the history of France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Paris: The Biography of a City

Paris: The Biography of a City

By Colin Jones

Why this book?

The subtitle Biography of a City disarmingly conceals the author’s success in telling the story of Paris while connecting it with the history of France as a whole. This history skilfully threads together the construction and growth of Paris as a city with its politics, its everyday life, and the humanity that has populated its streets and neighbourhoods. This is above all a well-paced narrative that captures the evolution of the city and its people – in turns turbulent, cultured, contentious, and refined.

From the list:

The best books to savour the history of Paris

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Oxford History of the French Revolution

The Oxford History of the French Revolution

By William Doyle

Why this book?

Bill Doyle is the leading British interpreter of the French Revolution and this is a subtle account of its causes and course. Very good on the need to look for specific political causes rather than any supposedly inevitable pattern of socio-economic conflict.

From the list:

The best books on the history of France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Forts of New France in Northeast America 1600-1763

The Forts of New France in Northeast America 1600-1763

By René Chartrand

Why this book?

Some readers want to see history as well as read it. Thankfully, there are many books about the Seven Years’ War that offer loads of illustrations, both from the era and produced more recently by illustrators. René Chartrand is the author of many such books, one of which is this one about the forts of New France. The author and illustrator present in-depth information about such French forts as Chambly, St. Frédéric (Crown Point), Carillon (Ticonderoga), Duquesne (Pittsburgh, PA), Ouiatenon (Quebec) and Vincennes (IN). As with all of Chartrand’s books, this one enriches our understanding of the Seven Years’ War,…

From the list:

The best books on the Seven Years’ War in North America

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Paris in the Fifties

Paris in the Fifties

By Stanley Karnow

Why this book?

While not strictly a book on fashion in Paris, it is a wonderful exploration of all things French after World War II, and one of those things was the Christian Dior couture house. Karnow arrived in Paris in 1947 to study, and soon landed a gig writing for Time magazine. One of his assignments was a cover story on Christian Dior, whose company, in less than a decade, had become so successful it was known as the General Motors of Fashion. In the Dior chapter, Karnow beautifully evokes the mechanisms and machinations of a French couture house, and shows…

From the list:

The best books about fashion in Paris

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth

By Liu Cixin

Why this book?

Countries tend to produce great science fiction when they are developing fast  like Britain and France did in Victorian times — think HG Wells and Jules Verne—and the US did in the post-WWII era (from Asimov to Zubrin). Given how fast China has been developing, it should come as no surprise that sci-fi has been booming there. And given how central a role China will play in the rest of the 21st century, we should be reading more of it. Like many people, I came across Liu Cixin through his novel, The Three-Body Problem. The Wandering Earth…

From the list:

The best green science fiction books

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918

Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918

By Louis Barthas

Why this book?

A day-to-day chronicle of a remarkably observant Frenchman who served from the beginning to the end of the war, this fascinating book is full of minute observations, perceptive insights, and the real, gritty texture of military life, service at the front, visits home, and confrontations with civilian life and politics. Barthas recounts all of this with an engaging immediacy and passion that makes the reader sad to part company with him at the war’s end.

From the list:

The best books on France and the first World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Our Friends the Enemies: The Occupation of France After Napoleon

Our Friends the Enemies: The Occupation of France After Napoleon

By Christine Haynes

Why this book?

Where my book, Fighting Terror, zooms in on the Allied Council, and its encompassing security culture, Christine Haynes’ rich and detailed book reconstructs the interactions between occupying soldiers and the occupied in Paris and across the French countryside. She meticulously details how these interactions involved violence, but also promoted cultural exchange (vernacular, songs, dances, fashion, food) and reconciliation between the French and their former enemies. Her book reads as a narrative on how to transform former enemies into allies, a unique blueprint for fraternizing-through-occupying on the ground.

From the list:

The best books on how Europe waged peace after Napoleon

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince: From Contemporary Letters, Diaries and Chronicles, Including Chandos Herald's Life of the Black Prince

The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince: From Contemporary Letters, Diaries and Chronicles, Including Chandos Herald's Life of the Black Prince

By Richard Barber

Why this book?

Richard Barber gathers together and translates letters written by, among others, the Black Prince and his steward, and the work of two contemporary chroniclers. Between them, these sources constitute an extraordinary collection of first-hand accounts of military campaigns in 14th-century France, including the battles of Crécy and Poitiers, and the 1355 expedition when the Black Prince rode through the area where I live – the Lauragais, between Toulouse and Carcassonne – and ordered his army to destroy and loot most of the towns along its route.

Sometimes verging on propaganda aimed at convincing those back in England that…

From the list:

The best books about France through foreign eyes

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes: And Other Travel Writings

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes: And Other Travel Writings

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Why this book?

Like Tschiffely’s Ride this is a travel narrative, given heightened interest and amusement by the addition of Modestine the donkey who carried Stevenson’s luggage. Modestine, like all donkeys, was a master at manipulating her inexperienced new owner, but the two forged an understanding that took them nearly 300km through some of France’s wildest landscapes. Written in 1879, this is a fascinating account of a vanished France, beset by religious conflict, where lodging might be found in the corner of a field as well as a flea-ridden inn. The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail is now a popular walking route through the…

From the list:

The best books on travel with animals

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE

Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE

By Kate Vigurs

Why this book?

Special Operations Executive had the directive to “Set Europe ablaze” and from 1942 began recruiting women as field operatives. 39 were sent into France (of which 26 returned), and Kate Vigurs tells their stories in Mission France. Superbly researched and well written, this book is a really good all-rounder. Broken into 3 sections (Foundations, War, and Death & Deliverance), it tells each woman’s story, from their recruitment to either their death or demob. I loved the fact that she covered the lesser-known agents as well as the big names. Be prepared to be moved – these women’s exploits are…

From the list:

The best books about the real-life, kick-ass female agents of WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Fat Dogs and French Estates, Part 4

Fat Dogs and French Estates, Part 4

By Beth Haslam

Why this book?

I think it is an excellent example of how ingenuity and mutual loving support can overcome an otherwise devastating event.

When Beth Haslam and her hilariously grumpy husband, Jack, and their lovable dogs, set off to buy a second home in rural France, they didn't expect to become part-time foresters, raising rare breed pheasants and caring for wild boar. In this fourth episode of Beth's excellent five-part memoir series, the Haslam's have their lives turned upside-down when a raging storm devastates vast sections of their forest. As if this disaster wasn't already bad enough, the authorities then demanded that the…

From the list:

The most inspiring books about dealing with unexpected events

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Fleeing Hitler: France 1940

Fleeing Hitler: France 1940

By Hanna Diamond

Why this book?

The first book to read on this subject. An accessible, expert synthesis of refugee experiences based on many accounts, including interviews, but focused on eight that contain extensive, significant detail (all by Paris residents, Léon Werth among them). Diamond concludes that Philippe Pétain leveraged refugees' suffering to propagandize for military capitulation and the legitimacy of his regime.

From the list:

The best books on the refugee crisis precipitated by Germany's attack on Western Europe in WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of France Under Fire: German Invasion, Civilian Flight and Family Survival During World War II

France Under Fire: German Invasion, Civilian Flight and Family Survival During World War II

By Nicole Dombrowski Risser

Why this book?

A more specialized account focused on the role of women, who made up the vast majority of refugees, in petitioning government for civilian protection and assistance before and after the crisis, and their unique experiences on the road. Dombrowski Risser finds that women initiated an expansion of universal human rights in wartime to include refugees' rights. Her insightful and masterfully informed analysis of primary source materials—women's letters to government officials—brings them to life, adding illuminating, and heartrending, substance and texture.

From the list:

The best books on the refugee crisis precipitated by Germany's attack on Western Europe in WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940

The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940

By Julian Jackson

Why this book?

Also for historical context, this is a more traditionally constructed history—though also a masterful synthesis of sources—and among those that view the refugee crisis as having a role in France's defeat. Clear, concise and comprehensive; if you read one book about the fall of France, read this.

From the list:

The best books on the refugee crisis precipitated by Germany's attack on Western Europe in WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age

The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age

By Simon Schama

Why this book?

I first met Simon Schama in 1963, when he joined me as an undergraduate reading History at Christ’s College Cambridge. Both of us decided to undertake research on the Low Countries, but in an international context: in my case, Spain and the Netherlands between 1550 and 1650; in Simon’s case, France and the Netherlands between 1770 and 1815, leading to his brilliant first book, Patriots and Liberators (a study of what the expansion of Revolutionary France meant for an occupied country.) This led him to analyse the social and cultural history of the country before occupation, using visual as well…

From the list:

The best books on the 17th Century

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of A Long Way from Paris

A Long Way from Paris

By E.C. Murray

Why this book?

Written in an engaging style, A Long Way from Paris centers on a young women's experiences living with a small family and working as a goat herder in southern France in 1980.  Elizabeth soon discovers that it is hard work dealing with the animals, especially during the frigid winter months. The language barrier between her and the family adds an unwelcome layer of complexity to an already challenging experience.

From the list:

The best books featuring unusual travel stories

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Memoirs Duc De Saint-Simon Volume Three: 1715-1723

Memoirs Duc De Saint-Simon Volume Three: 1715-1723

By Louis De Rouvroy Saint-Simon, Lucy Norton

Why this book?

Saint-Simon was another passionate outsider. He compensated for his lack of position and favour under Louis XIV by putting his fantasies of omniscience and his psychological perception into his memoirs. One of the great stylists of the French language, he leads readers into a universe where class, personality, and ambition are more important than public issues. He blamed French defeats on Louis XIV’s pride and ignorance. He called Versailles ’the saddest and most unrewarding place in the world’ and the King’s Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, heightening persecution of Protestants, ‘a general abomination born of flattery and cruelty’. At…

From the list:

The best books on the French court

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb

Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb

By François-René de Chateaubriand, Robert Baldick

Why this book?

In his memoirs Chateaubriand combined private life and public events, the autobiography of a Romantic with the history of the French revolution. A royalist writer, ambassador, and minister, he believed that ‘legitimate, constitutional monarchy’ was the ‘gentlest and surest path to complete freedom’. His memoirs give brilliant descriptions of the Bourbons, of whom he often despaired, including the ‘infernal vision’ of Talleyrand and Fouché entering Louis XVIII’s study, ‘vice leaning on the arm of crime’; and the bedsheets which royalist ladies converted into white Bourbon flags, to salute the entry of the allies into Paris in 1814.  For him the…

From the list:

The best books on the French court

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Les derniers feux de la monarchie

Les derniers feux de la monarchie

By Charles-Éloi Vial

Why this book?

In this dazzling panorama, using many unpublished sources, Vial brilliantly brings to life the French court as it reinvented and redefined itself after1789. Because of the feeling of insecurity generated by revolutions, coups, and invasions, Napoleon I and III, the restored Bourbons, and Louis-Philippe tried harder, through public ceremonies, court entertainments, artistic patronage, and good works, to win the popularity which they all knew they needed. In its last, and in some ways most splendid century, the French court had to decide what to retain, what to change, whom to trust and whom to invade. Only after trying many different…

From the list:

The best books on the French court

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Gastronomical Me

The Gastronomical Me

By M.F.K. Fisher

Why this book?

To call Fisher merely a food writer is to miss out on one of the most provocative essayists of the 20th century. This exploration of her departure from American life to live in Dijon, France, is a celebration of what it means to be truly engaged in one’s own story. For those with ravenous appetites for not just food, but the stuff of life.

From the list:

The best books on or by maverick women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

By Donna M. Lucey

Why this book?

There are many ways to approach history. Donna Lucey brilliantly chose to usher readers into the world of the Gilded Age via the captivating canvases of that era’s most sought-after portraitist, John Singer Sargent. There are always more stories lurking behind Sargent’s luxurious depictions of his subjects, and Lucey gets beneath the paint and the posing to give us her own picture of four very real women whose lives are far more nuanced than any portrait sitting can convey.

From the list:

The best books on or by maverick women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Black, French, and African

Black, French, and African

By Janet G. Vaillant

Why this book?

This book stands as a reference when it comes to the early life of Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and it is one of the first biographies of an African president that I read. Beyond the extreme richness of this book, I have always been struck by how little the author wrote about Senghor’s political career as president (which remains quite controversial). For a long time, biographies of African presidents were grounded in an idea of greatness and exceptionality rather than unraveling political intricacies. 

From the list:

The best books on African presidents and their history

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Dirty Snow

Dirty Snow

By Georges Simenon, Marc Romano

Why this book?

Simenon is a master storyteller and father of the noir genre. He quit school as a teenager and never attended a writing program. Dirty Snow is filled with psychological insight and hard facts about life. The main character, Frank Friedmaier, is a brawny young man who lives in his mother’s brothel in France under German occupation. A horrible crime, along with heinous acts, are committed because he cares about nothing and does things without reason. His life is deprived of a father and that void quickly becomes occupied by whores that facilitate a man without optimism. Simenon vividly takes us…

From the list:

The best books on the terrors of nihilism

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France

French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France

By Polly Platt

Why this book?

Polly Platt was the first author to write about the frustrating features of French in a way that would help foreigners deal with them. In this classic, first published in 1994, she delves into their intense relationship to food, explains how to handle rudeness in stores, how to deal with the French bureaucracy, how their idea of time can drive foreigners crazy and much more. Platt’s observations were eye-opening for me when I first moved to France and are still relevant 25 years later. 

From the list:

The best books for understanding the French

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Paris to the Moon

Paris to the Moon

By Adam Gopnick

Why this book?

New Yorker Adam Gopnick’s memoir about life in Paris with his family is a great reminder of why we all became so enchanted with France, and the French, in the first place. The experiences are relatable, but the insights erudite enough to make you feel smart, and want to dig deeper. It’s a dreamy, vicarious immersion in the life of a sophisticated expatriate who grapples with all the quirks and paradoxes of the French capital and its inhabitants.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the French

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart

Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart

By William Alexander

Why this book?

Alexander’s book is a sort of memoir that recounts how, at a quite advanced age, he set out to become fluent in French. It’s funny, insightful, peppered with great observations, and has quite an amazing twist in the plot. His determination to master French – but also the research he explores about language learning in the process – will be inspiring for readers of all ages. A fun and motivating read.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the French

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of I Spied for France

I Spied for France

By Marthe Richer

Why this book?

Marthe Richer’s memoir is a bookend to Mata Hari’s story because her wartime French spy handler, Captain Georges Ladoux, was the man who had framed Mata Hari. A prostitute before the war, Richer was recruited by Ladoux to spy for France, which she did effectively. After the war, however, she claimed to have been a double agent who passed French secrets to a German official (no one really knows the truth). Richer observed that Mata Hari “was exactly what I was myself, however, I was decorated with the Legion d’honneur and Mata Hari was executed.” Later she pursued a political…

From the list:

The best books about (or by) women spies of the First World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of An American Heroine in the French Resistance: The Diary and Memoir of Virginia d'Albert-Lake

An American Heroine in the French Resistance: The Diary and Memoir of Virginia d'Albert-Lake

By Virginia d'Albert-Lake

Why this book?

Edited by historian Judy Barrett Litoff, who wrote a comprehensive introduction outlining Virginia d’Albert-Lake’s war, this memoir recounts the dramatic experience of a rare American woman resistance agent in occupied France. Working with the legendary Comet escape line, she and her French husband helped shelter and move 66 Allied airmen to safety. But in 1944, a German question answered in her American accent got her sent straight to the Gestapo and then to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Virginia d’Albert-Lake tells her amazing story of life on the edge from the pages of her diary.

From the list:

The best non-fiction books by women on women in WWII

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Sisters in the Resistance: How Women Fought to Free France, 1940-1945

Sisters in the Resistance: How Women Fought to Free France, 1940-1945

By Margaret Collins Weitz

Why this book?

Margaret Collins Weitz interviewed more than 80 women (and some men) who worked in the French Resistance during the Nazi Occupation. From this foundation, she brings forth the detailed accounts of a variety of women, from the well-known Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, to rarely heard students, nurses, and even a nun. Their stories are told through their own voices, framed by the author in a well-researched context. Danger, tension, conflict, and loss echo through the pages, but at the core of it also is the courage the women found in themselves when their nation was in need.

From the list:

The best non-fiction books by women on women in WWII

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

By Caroline Weber

Why this book?

This was one of the first studies of Marie Antoinette that aimed to take seriously her style as a critical political tool, one that worked both for the ill-fated French queen and against her. The study of bodily adornment, clothing, and fashion choices are now a key part of how we understand gender politics and the politics of the body both in history and in our own lives. 

Importantly, Weber situates Marie Antoinette’s understanding of the importance of her fashion in the wider context of the culture of display at Versailles, where close examination of bodies in ceremonial, sartorial, and…

From the list:

The best books to make you think about women and power in history

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Leader of the Band

Leader of the Band

By Fay Weldon

Why this book?

Fay Weldon’s novels are plotted like my book Secret Lives of Planets: a sequence of chance and disconnected events which nevertheless form a biography. In this novel, Sandra Harris, known to her TV fans as "Starlady Sandra”, an astronomer (famous for her discovery of the new planet Athena), and a “professional searcher after truth”, leaves her inadequate husband and runs off with her jazz-playing lover to the south of France. She is pursued by her husband, her lover’s wife, and paparazzi. “She’s always seeing things“, her friends say: new planets, her Nazi war-criminal eugenicist father, her insane mother, other…

From the list:

The best books with fictional female astronomers

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Louisbourg, From Its Foundation To Its Fall, 1713-1758

Louisbourg, From Its Foundation To Its Fall, 1713-1758

By John Stewart McLennan

Why this book?

Not many history books remain in print — and highly useful — more than a century after publication. Yet this book by John Stewart McLennan, first published in 1918, is one. His narrative of the rise and fall of Louisbourg remains a compelling and fact-based history that continues to satisfy many readers, especially those primarily interested in Louisbourg as a pawn in the game of imperial struggle between France and Great Britain. To be sure, McLennan’s book is light on the social, cultural, and religious history of Louisbourg, but there are lots of other authors who have explored those themes…

From the list:

The best books on the history of Canada’s fortress of Louisbourg

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Spring Cannot Be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy

Spring Cannot Be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy

By David Hockney, Martin Gayford

Why this book?

I adore David Hockney. He draws so beautifully, and in so many different ways, and is always inventive in his art-making. He makes me see more through his art and was a major inspiration for me when I was starting out as an editorial illustrator years ago. This book is a 2020 pandemic conversation between Hockney, now living in Normandy, and his good friend, the art critic Martin Gayford in the UK. It really speaks to the devotion that artists have to observing life and creating something beautiful from it. I love the joy Hockney brings to his work and…

From the list:

The best books on art and creativity

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution

A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution

By Jeremy D. Popkin

Why this book?

There are a thousand books on the French Revolution, but most of them focus on the foibles of the aristocracy, or the wild rage of the crowds, or the heroism of Napoleon. Popkin’s new history does a masterful job of covering all the key events and personalities in France in the years leading up to the Revolution and in its unfolding over almost two decades. He is particularly good at placing the Revolution in the context of world history (showing its relation to events in the New World, from the American Revolution to the Revolution in Haiti), and in keeping…

From the list:

The best books to discover the power and variety of revolutions across history

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution

Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution

By R.R. Palmer

Why this book?

There is a reason why this book, published during the darkest days of World War Two, is still in print eighty years later. It is a profound study, deeply informed by Palmer’s own experience of living through a time of war, crisis, and fear. It focuses on the twelve men who served on the Committee of Public Safety and together played a leading role in revolutionary government throughout the critical period of the Year II (1793-94).

This was the first book I ever read on the period of existential crisis known as ‘the Terror’, and it helped me make sense…

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolutionary Terror

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Gods Will Have Blood

The Gods Will Have Blood

By Anatole France

Why this book?

I have read no better evocation of how the mechanics of the Terror actually proceeded and intruded on the populace. The story is compelling, the characterisation vivid, the overall effect to make the reader shudder with disbelief that such disgusting activity should have been fenced round with nay, enshrined in, the supposed legitimacy and defence of law, the very safety of a government’s measures to protect the public. Cicero invoked, here: the supreme point of law is the safety of the people. The reference of the title is to the human sacrifices in the Inca culture. At one point, such…
From the list:

The best books to understand the terror of the French Revolution

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Pure and the Impure

The Pure and the Impure

By Colette, Herma Briffault

Why this book?

Although best known to Anglophone readers for her novel Gigi (1944), Colette considered Ces Plaisirs (These Pleasures) later titled The Pure and the Impure, one of her best works. A titillating exploration into the erotic underground of early twentieth-century Paris, the novel’s semi-autobiographical characters pursue a range of sexual experiences and sensual pleasures. Traversing the capital city’s carnal playgrounds, from its fashionable opium dens to its commercial boudoirs, Colette troubles the complicated relationship between sex and love – presenting both as a worthy if ultimately futile human pursuit.

From the list:

The best books on sex and the city in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France

By Rachel Mesch

Why 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…

From the list:

The best biographies of remarkable French women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris

Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris

By Andrew Israel Ross

Why this book?

Public City/Public Sex offers a provocative foray into the dance halls, brothels, and even the public urinals of nineteenth-century Paris. By centering sexuality conceptually and geographically, Ross advances the novel argument that public sex constituted public culture in the capital city. Vividly illuminating how urban clandestine and public sexual encounters (between men and women, men and men, and to a lesser extent, women and women) necessitated a new form of civic management, Ross cleverly demonstrates the intricate, intimate ways in which sex was implicated in, and developed alongside, the modern city.

From the list:

The best books on sex and the city in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Uncovering Paris: Scandals and Nude Spectacles in the Belle Époque

Uncovering Paris: Scandals and Nude Spectacles in the Belle Époque

By Lela F. Kerley

Why this book?

Taking us inside the artist balls, music halls, and into the hidden bohemian enclaves of Paris, Kerley examines the myriad ways that the sexualized female body was commodified and spectacularized at the turn of the twentieth century. At this time, the nude female body reigned supreme as a subject of fine art as well as on the commercial stages of the bustling metropolis. Nude women were everywhere, even as respectable women were increasingly told to cover up. How to reconcile the contradiction between woman as housewife, woman as a harlot? This is a central question of Kerley’s beautifully written, thoughtful…

From the list:

The best books on sex and the city in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Working Girls: Sex, Taste, and Reform in the Parisian Garment Trades, 1880-1919

Working Girls: Sex, Taste, and Reform in the Parisian Garment Trades, 1880-1919

By Patricia Tilburg

Why this book?

Tilburg transports us from the world of art and artistry examined in the texts above to examine how new notions of sex and sexuality impacted the lives of ordinary working women. Through the figure of the idealized working Parisienne, the midinette, and the real-life woman worker she represented, Tilburg demonstrates how contemporaries evoked women’s working bodies as symbols of French taste and craftsmanship while also regarding them as potentially dangerous sexual and political subordinates. A painstakingly researched book, Working Girls brilliantly captures the insidious ways in which woman as cultural symbol covers over the socioeconomic hardships and political limitations real…

From the list:

The best books on sex and the city in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Warmth of the Heart Prevents Your Body from Rusting: A French Recipe for a Long Life, Well-Lived

The Warmth of the Heart Prevents Your Body from Rusting: A French Recipe for a Long Life, Well-Lived

By Marie De Hennezel

Why this book?

Many books in my personal live-long-live-well library are about the physical element of healthy aging – basically: just keep moving. But healthy aging is just as much from the neck up from the neck down. As this one proves.

Marie de Hennezel is a French palliative-care psychologist …and this book excavates “the inexplicable, incomprehensible force that keeps human beings alive...” The psyche ripens as the body diminishes, and a keen new sensual perception blooms. Takeaway: “To an 80-year-old, a child’s smile has more currency than a three-course banquet does to a 40-year-old...”

From the list:

The best books on actually living before you die

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of French Wine: A History

French Wine: A History

By Rod Phillips

Why this book?

This is the best general survey of French wine in English, from someone who not only teaches the history of modern France at his local university, but who also reviews and writes about wine for his city’s newspaper. As both an academic historian and a journalist, Phillips has written a riveting account of how wine was first introduced to France under the Romans, how many of the vineyards later came under the control of the Catholic church in the Middle Ages, how the French state attempted to control and regulate the production of wine in the nineteenth-century, and how smaller…
From the list:

The best books on French wine, history, and culture

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion?

Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion?

By Marion Demossier

Why this book?

At some basic level, the drinking culture in eighteenth-century taverns has survived in Parisian wine bars and cafés today. Yet, as a social anthropologist, Demossier shows us that wine-drinking culture has changed into something different today. Since 1980 the number of French people who drank wine every day has plummeted from over 50 percent to barely 20 percent. Yet at the same time, wine has taken on a larger cultural role in French identity as a nation even for those who drink wine less regularly. All the TV programs, books, wine blogs, wine tourism, and consumers flocking to wineries for…
From the list:

The best books on French wine, history, and culture

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1

Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1

By Marcel Proust, CK Scott Moncrieff

Why this book?

Besides being probably the best novel ever written, this is certainly the best novel ever written about Jews. Set largely during the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s, when the wrongful conviction of a Jewish officer for treason drove France to the brink of civil war, Proust’s epic novel explores the dynamics of Jewish assimilation and antisemitism with keen insight and biting wit. Half-Jewish himself, Proust understood better than anyone why Jews wanted to be part of a society that regarded them with at best ambivalence and at worst, outright disdain. The novel is about a lot of other things also—childhood,…
From the list:

The best books on Jews in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Alfred Dreyfus:  L’Honneur d’un patriote

Alfred Dreyfus: L’Honneur d’un patriote

By Vincent Duclert

Why this book?

This is the best history of the Dreyfus Affair and I wish it were available in English. Whereas most histories of the Affair cast Dreyfus as a hapless victim or as a patriotic automaton, who might not have even been a Dreyfusard had he not been Dreyfus, Duclert shows him to have been a true hero, whose super-human resolve and fortitude eventually allowed justice to prevail. Dreyfus emerges not as a martyr to antisemitism but as the first example of the resistance hero, the model for the struggle against authoritarianism and state terror in the twentieth century.
From the list:

The best books on Jews in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France

The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France

By James McAuley

Why this book?

This is a book about a group of fabulously wealthy Jewish families (the Cahen D’Anvers, the Reinachs, the Rothschilds, and others) who amassed first-class art collections and left them to the French state only to see the state turn on them during the German Occupation. With great sensitivity, McAuley explores the lives of these very elite Jews, many of whom were related through ties of friendship and marriage, painting a rich portrait of their gilded but “fragile” world. He shows the complicated motivations behind their collections—the drive to belong and to express that belonging through art. This is certainly a…
From the list:

The best books on Jews in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Journal of Hélène Berr

The Journal of Hélène Berr

By Hélène Berr

Why this book?

Hélène Berr was the French Anne Frank: a university student during the German Occupation, she kept a journal of her experience, which her family kept private until 2008, when it became a publishing sensation. The journal covers the period from 1942, when Jews were forced to wear the yellow star, until her arrest in 1944. Gifted with a literary sensibility, Hélène observes the world around her as the walls began to close in, but still manages to grasp moments of love and joy amid the suffering. A precious record of day-to-day life in Occupied France, the journal also provides that…
From the list:

The best books on Jews in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of La Place de l’étoile

La Place de l’étoile

By Patrick Modiano, Frank Wynne

Why this book?

This is the first novel by Modiano, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014.  It has been translated into English but with a French title, which contains a pun that can’t be translated (referring both to a location in Paris and to the infamous badge imposed by the Nazis). A darkly comic and shocking send-up of French antisemitic literature, the novel features a clownish protagonist named Raphaël Schlemilovitch who embraces every antisemitic stereotype imaginable, becoming in turn, a cosmopolitan, a traitor, a collaborator, and a pimp before winding up on the couch of Sigmund Freud begging to be…

From the list:

The best books on Jews in modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny

Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny

By Michael Broers

Why this book?

Hailed by most reviewers as the definitive biography on Napoleon. It is written by the doyen of Napoleonic studies at Oxford. Based on the meticulous research and the recently completed new & expanded edition of Napoleon’s letters. Despite this Broers wears his erudition lightly and has written a gripping and page-turning life story of the man who changed Europe beyond recognition. It is by far the most European biography ever written on the French Emperor. We all await volume 3 with great anticipation!

From the list:

The best books about Napoleon, his rise to power, and his downfall

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Paris Library

The Paris Library

By Janet Skeslien Charles

Why this book?

I loved this book as much for its story as its turn of phrase. The Paris Library is set during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Although the book does not avoid addressing the privations and terror experienced by those living through that devastating period, it is the role the library played in people’s lives that is central to the story – it provided a precarious haven and a refuge of sanity. The novel is an important reminder that books are far more than words on paper – they have the power to sustain us through the darkest times.
From the list:

The best books set in France that go beyond the rom com

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The New Parisienne: The Women & Ideas Shaping Paris

The New Parisienne: The Women & Ideas Shaping Paris

By Lindsey Tramuta, Joann Pai

Why this book?

The book is an insider guide to Paris and features interviews with amazing women who are making the city better and more interesting, one action, one thought, one sentence at a time. I finished the book wishing I could meet the Parisiennes over coffee to discuss the different challenges that they faced. 

From the list:

The best books about ups and downs in Paris: C'est La Vie

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Let Them Eat Pancakes: One Man's Personal Revolution in the City of Light

Let Them Eat Pancakes: One Man's Personal Revolution in the City of Light

By Craig Carlson

Why this book?

Craig Carlson shares his passion for food and France in this charming, thought-provoking collection of essays. With heart and humor, he shows us the best of America and France, and how we can learn from one another. Whether delving into cultural differences or the challenges and rewards of running a business, Craig is the perfect guide. Let Them Eat Pancakes is a delicious, satisfying dish about following your dreams and dealing with any challenge that arises.

From the list:

The best books about ups and downs in Paris: C'est La Vie

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of About Looking

About Looking

By John Berger

Why this book?

This is a book of essays about the act of looking, especially looking at photographs and paintings and animals and other people. Thus these are essays about history, memory, suffering, beauty, and the self. Berger had a generous spirit; he wrote often about the lives of peasants and spent the last forty years of his life in rural France. Berger gazed upon the world in all its forms with composure and curiosity. 

From the list:

The best books on the existential crisis of looking in a mirror

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Black Death

The Black Death

By Rosemary Horrox

Why this book?

This is a wonderfully curated selection of sources drawn from many western European countries. They offer us a real sense of how individuals, groups, governments and the Church reacted to this, perhaps the most appalling natural disaster in European history. We learn not only of political but personal and psychological reactions to a plague which most contemporaries viewed as a manifestation of divine anger with a sinful world.
From the list:

The best books on the late medieval crisis: war and plague in Britain and France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr

The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr

By R.R. Davies

Why this book?

Rees Davies was one of the first historians to seek to explore the histories of Britain and Ireland as both unique and intertwined narratives. Although this book focuses on the Welsh revolt of the early 15th century it shows the author’s formidable understanding of the relationship between England and Wales in the century after the Edwardian conquest. An object lesson in academic history written with the general reader in mind.
From the list:

The best books on the late medieval crisis: war and plague in Britain and France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation

The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation

By Richard W. Kaeuper, Elspeth Kennedy

Why this book?

Often said to have been in decline in the later middle ages, this treatise, by a French knight, written for King John II’s Company of the Star, shows that chivalry, although under great pressure, remained a hugely powerful ethos which continued to shape aristocratic life in the fourteenth century. The work details the trials and travails of a life in arms and the ‘worth’ of various military enterprises. Rather poignantly, Charny died at the battle of Poitiers (1356) while bearing the Oriflamme, the French banner.
From the list:

The best books on the late medieval crisis: war and plague in Britain and France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Citizenship Between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945-1960

Citizenship Between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945-1960

By Frederick Cooper

Why this book?

In this superb, prize-winning book, Cooper shows that despite France’s often gruesome treatment of its African colonies, its postwar leaders tried to make amends. After taking power in 1958, Charles de Gaulle gave each of France’s African territories three choices: 1) full departmental status within the French Republic (à la Martinique and Guadeloupe); 2) internal autonomy and democratic self-government in a newly dubbed French Community modeled on the British Commonwealth; 3) complete independence with a cutoff of all financial assistance. Every territory voted for option 2, except Guinea, which chose independence. Although the Community option ultimately fell apart, Cooper shows…
From the list:

The best books for understanding the impact of European colonialism on Africa and Africans

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Historian’s Craft

The Historian’s Craft

By Marc Bloch

Why this book?

Apology of History, or the Historian’s Craft is the exact translation of the French title of this book, written in 1941-42 by Marc Bloch, a great historian who was executed in 1944 as a member of the French Resistance. In his testament, Marc Block wished two words to be incised on his tombstone: dilexit veritatem (‘he loved the truth). The book is about the technique of understanding the present by means of studying the past. The fact that Apology of History, or the Historian’s Craft was written in the midst of the war explains the original title. The…
From the list:

The best books on how historians work

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide

By Nicky Gardner, Susanne Kries

Why this book?

Back in the day, no self-respecting InterRail traveller would leave home without the iconic red Thomas Cook European timetable and while it’s still available in different formats these days, apps and websites have removed the urgency of travelling with a big book of timetables. But this sterling work, updated regularly, fills the gap between inspiration and destination – full of the nuts and bolts of European rail travel (what tickets, where, and how to buy) while featuring over fifty routes, complete with descriptions, diversions, recommendations, and discoveries. It’s brilliant for the armchair traveller, and invaluable for anyone eyeing a leisurely…

From the list:

The best books about rail journeys

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of When the King Took Flight

When the King Took Flight

By Timothy Tackett

Why this book?

At the celebrations on 14 July 1790 for the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, Louis XVI took an oath to work with the National Assembly as a constitutional monarch. Less than a year later, on 20 June 1791, the royal family tried to flee the Revolution. The king’s flight convinced masses of French people that he was a perjurer: the monarchy never recovered its mystique.

In contrast, his capture near the border with Luxembourg convinced the crowned heads of Europe that the royal family was in mortal danger. Ten months later France was at war with Marie-Antoinette’s…

From the list:

The best books to understand the French Revolution

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

By William Doyle

Why this book?

Ever since 1789 people have asked how to explain such a massive upheaval in an apparently stable kingdom. Why did the Revolution follow its particular course after 1789? Why did it result in a civil war and international warfare? When was it “over”? And how “revolutionary” was the Revolution? Was France fundamentally changed as a result of it? What were the international repercussions?

An eminent historian of the eighteenth century here manages to condense decades of research and writing into a pocket-sized paperback. It is a superb, lucid, and up-to-date summary of the origins, course, and outcomes of the Revolution…

From the list:

The best books to understand the French Revolution

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of French Revolution and the People

French Revolution and the People

By David Andress

Why this book?

The elation of the revolutionary months of May-October 1789 was soon replaced by fervent debate about whose revolution this was to be. This was a debate which involved people at every level of society across the new nation. How could the divergent hopes of middle-class politicians and officials, insurgent Parisians, and the divergent mass of the peasantry be reconciled? Others rejected the Revolution altogether. After 1792 the debate became deadly as a European coalition made war on France, often with the collaboration of internal counter-revolutionaries. David Andress has created a vivid and expert narrative of an unfolding struggle over the…

From the list:

The best books to understand the French Revolution

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Terror: The French Revolution and Its Demons

Terror: The French Revolution and Its Demons

By Michel Biard, Marisa Linton

Why this book?

Few studies of the French Revolution by French historians have been made available in English. This is a loss for non-French readers, for it is France’s own revolution after all. No one knows the subject in such formidable depth as do their best historians, and Michel Biard is indubitably one of the very best of his generation. While I myself collaborated in the writing of this book, my principal reason for recommending it here is that it makes Michel Biard’s work more widely available. This up-to-date book appeared in French in 2020, under the title, Terreur! La Révolution française face…

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolutionary Terror

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution 1793-1794

Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution 1793-1794

By Olivier Blanc

Why this book?

Blanc discovered in the National Archives in Paris a remarkable cache of letters kept in an old tin labelled as the property of Fouquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor of the French revolutionary Tribunal. He was a man who in sending off the last batch of victims to be beheaded, even after hearing that Robespierre was dead and with him, the Terror, said ‘justice must run its course’

The letters, written by prisoners on the eve of their own execution, to wife, family, plangent pleas to be remembered – some containing a little keepsake: a shirt stud, maybe – were never delivered,…

From the list:

The best books to understand the terror of the French Revolution

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Madame Bovary: Provincial Lives

Madame Bovary: Provincial Lives

By Gustave Flaubert, Geoffrey Wall

Why this book?

How very terrible is the overmastering desire that torments Madame Bovary! How large is our sympathy and, at the same time, our disgust for this woman of the provinces who, longing for the gay life of a Parisian, as it was in the first half of the nineteenth century, betrayed everyone she knew, including her doltish, if devoted husband, Charles, a country doctor. Fifty-five years have passed since my first acquaintance with Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 masterwork of psychological and sociological realism, a work that does not pass judgment on human folly but only presents it, although the absurdities of society…

From the list:

The best books on the mind at play

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of My Blue Notebooks: The Intimate Journal of Paris's Most Beautiful and Notorious Courtesan

My Blue Notebooks: The Intimate Journal of Paris's Most Beautiful and Notorious Courtesan

By Liane de Pougy

Why this book?

‘Father, except for murder and robbery, I’ve done everything.’ So confessed the notorious courtesan Liane de Pougy, and her diary offers a tantalising peek into the mind of a fast-living, turn-of-the-century ‘It’ girl. After a teen pregnancy, Liane was swiftly married, shot by her husband, then finally fled to Paris where she became a courtesan. Glamorous, forthright, and unashamedly vain, Liane turned herself into a fashion icon.  A social butterfly among high society, Liane’s address book reads like a literary Who’s Who of the roaring 20s (Jean Cocteau, Marcel Proust, the Rothschilds, and the poet Max Jacob all featured). From…

From the list:

The best books on France and women since the Revolution of 1789

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Célestine: Voices from a French Village

Célestine: Voices from a French Village

By Gillian Tindall

Why this book?

A dusty bundle of 150-year-old letters found in a deserted house in rural France forms the premise of this intriguing literary hybrid. Author Gillian Tindall beckons us to follow her on an enthralling, real-life detective story, as she uncovers the life and loves of the letters’ addressee, an obscure provincial innkeeper’s daughter named Célestine Chaumettte. As she pieces Célestine’s story together, Tindall breathes life back into a whole slice of history and a community now vanished. A rich cast of forgotten characters springs from the pages as we see, taste, and smell the many textures of rural society in 19…

From the list:

The best books on France and women since the Revolution of 1789

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process 1: The Colonial Period

In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process 1: The Colonial Period

By A. Leon Higginbotham

Why this book?

We may think we know about colonial America. Higginbotham reveals that we are just beginning to learn about this geographical space and this period of history. Higginbotham shows another ‘America,’ still dominated by the laws of European countries such as Britain, France, the Dutch Republics, and Spain. This is an America that may be unfamiliar to us and it is a place where Africans could still negotiate their status in the courts of law. This book offers a very detailed exploration of a fascinating moment in American history. And shows us what the founding of the United States of America…

From the list:

The best history books about everyone and for everyone

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life

Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life

By Peter McPhee

Why this book?

Maximilien Robespierre will always be associated in people’s minds with ‘the Terror’. In reality, he was not a dictator, but one of a group of committed revolutionaries in the National Convention. Within hours of his execution in July 1794 a myth began to circulate that he had been the sole mastermind behind ‘the Terror’. This myth was a way of exculpating the men who had also backed terror during the crisis of the ‘Year II’. Afterward, it was so much simpler for them to lay all the blame onto Robespierre. McPhee’s profound knowledge of the Revolution enables him to situate…

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolutionary Terror

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Nancy Wake: World War Two's Most Rebellious Spy

Nancy Wake: World War Two's Most Rebellious Spy

By Russell Braddon

Why this book?

Nancy Wake was one of the Gestapo’s “most wanted.” While this is not a biography of a woman in mountain climbing, I was struck by the way she showed the same trailblazing characteristic of Fanny Bullock Workman. When Wake left her posh life in the South of France and began working with the French Resistance she showed that someone determined to succeed can do so regardless of societal barriers and expectations.
From the list:

The best books on barrier breaking women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944

Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944

By Brooks Richards

Why this book?

A detailed and authoritative account of the vitally important secret naval operations mounted to rescue Allied service personnel and also ferry secret agents to and from occupied France. Recognised as the official historian of the ‘secret flotillas’, as a Royal Navy officer Brooks Richards took part in many of these operations and thus vividly describes the hazardous voyages, often in small fishing vessels under cover of darkness and well before the days of GPS and other modern navigation tools. In addition to his own wartime experiences, Brooks Richards’ account is informed by extensive personal research, including access to what were…

From the list:

The best books about escaping from occupied France during WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of RAF Evaders: The Complete Story of RAF Escapees and Their Escape Lines, Western Europe, 1940-1945

RAF Evaders: The Complete Story of RAF Escapees and Their Escape Lines, Western Europe, 1940-1945

By Oliver Clutton-Brock

Why this book?

This book provides one of the most detailed accounts of the many escape routes (and their ‘passengers’) from France -- by land, sea or air. It is a mine of information, including biographies of the key people involved and invaluable listings of over 2000 of the more than 4000 evaders identified by Airey Neave of MI9. Of these, 3000 were airmen (including many Americans). But it is also eminently readable, combining historical background with stories of the individuals who made the perilous journey, some of the details being published here for the first time.

From the list:

The best books about escaping from occupied France during WW2

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of There Are No Slaves in France: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime

There Are No Slaves in France: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime

By Sue Peabody

Why this book?

Sue Peabody’s book on the death of the “free soil principle” in France is a milestone in legal history. Beginning in 1315, when Louis X signed the letters patent that forever associated the words French and France with the eradication of slavery, anyone who was bonded or a serf was supposedly “free” when stepping foot in France. This tenet began to fall apart in 1716, when the then Regent created a loophole for slaveowners returning to France with their enslaved servants. Peabody takes us deep into the legality (and illegality) of slavery on French soil as well as several illustrative…

From the list:

The best books about race and the enlightenment

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Chasing Empire Across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic, 1713-1763

Chasing Empire Across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic, 1713-1763

By Kenneth J. Banks

Why this book?

Chasing Empire Across the Sea is a multi-sited study of French colonial empire-building in the Atlantic World. Focusing on the colonial administrations in Quebec, New Orleans, and Martinique, the book’s emphasis on the fragility of colonial-metropolitan communication and the challenges this posed to French imperial sovereignty reminds readers of the vulnerability of early modern European empires. It also allows for a better understanding of the political structures and geographies that conditioned the French colonial enterprise.

From the list:

The best books on France and Its eighteenth-century colonial empire

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Cul de Sac: Patrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-Domingue

Cul de Sac: Patrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-Domingue

By Paul Cheney

Why this book?

Cul de Sac is an enticing micro-historical study of the economic trajectory of the old-regime French plantation complex in Saint-Domingue. Through deft mining of the archives of a noble family from Brittany and their correspondence with the overseer of their sugar plantation in the Cul-de-Sac plain, Cheney argues in this book that growing tensions between nascent capitalism and old-regime political and social structures pushed the model of the plantation complex in Saint-Domingue toward a dead-end even prior to the French and Haitian Revolutions.

From the list:

The best books on France and Its eighteenth-century colonial empire

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Journal of My Life

Journal of My Life

By Jacques-Louis Ménétra

Why this book?

The only first-hand account of life in Paris written by an artisan, matter-of-factly describing the city’s casual violence and bawdiness, the joys, and hardships, loves, and hatreds. Wonderfully translated, it captures a way of looking at the world that we’ve lost.  But also the thoughtfulness of a largely self-educated man who is loyal to family and friends, rejects conventional religious belief, and supports the French Revolution.

From the list:

The best books on the social history of eighteenth-century Paris

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Fabricating Women: The Seamstresses of Old Regime France, 1675-1791

Fabricating Women: The Seamstresses of Old Regime France, 1675-1791

By Clare Haru Crowston

Why this book?

Great on the opportunities and difficulties encountered by working women. Paris seamstresses had their own guild but struggled to maintain their autonomy. A lovely explanation of what they made, how the garment and fashion trade worked, and how individual seamstresses built careers in dressmaking, from apprenticeship to running their own business.

From the list:

The best books on the social history of eighteenth-century Paris

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Ninety-Three

Ninety-Three

By Victor Hugo

Why this book?

Set at the height of the French Revolution, in the midst of the Terror, this novel by the Romantic writer Victor Hugo depicts the contest between revolutionary “Blues” and counter-revolutionary “Whites” in Brittany.  Emphasizing the ideological conviction of both sides, the novel provides a vivid introduction to the civil war engendered by the Revolution of 1789, between radical Jacobins, on the one hand, and traditionalist nobles, priests, and peasants, especially in the Vendée region of western France, on the other. While it is perhaps a bit melodramatic for modern tastes, this lesser-known novel by one of France’s most celebrated authors…

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolution from a wide range of perspectives

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Muslims and Citizens: Islam, Politics, and the French Revolution

Muslims and Citizens: Islam, Politics, and the French Revolution

By Ian Coller

Why this book?

Similarly contributing to a broadening of perspective on the French Revolution, Ian Coller’s new book examines the way in which Muslims figured into the history of this world-historical event.  Making creative use of scattered and fragmentary sources on Muslims in eighteenth-century France and its empire, he shows how they were central to discussions of the “universalism” of the rights guaranteed by the revolutionary government. While this government was initially supported by much of the Muslim world, it ultimately undermined Muslim support—and the republic itself—by attempting to impose its vision of universal “liberty” in the invasion of Egypt in 1798, which…

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolution from a wide range of perspectives

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Life in Revolutionary France

Life in Revolutionary France

By Mette Herder, Jennifer Heuer

Why this book?

This new collection of essays by an international team of cutting-edge scholars allows readers to see how the French Revolution affected ordinary men and women, in Paris, the French provinces, and the French empire overseas.  Treating a broad range of topics—from female activism to property, justice, medicine, food, material culture, childhood, religion, and war—these essays collectively paint a vivid picture of everyday life during this tumultuous period.  Each essay is accompanied by a primary document from the time, which enables readers to see for themselves the kinds of sources on which historians rely in their work.  Inspired by innovative historiographical…

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolution from a wide range of perspectives

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

By Ian Coller

Why this book?

Ian Coller’s study shows how, even in the Napoleonic era, the empire was a two-way process that left a lasting legacy for modern France. He discusses the community of Arabs - several hundred Egyptians, Syrians, and others - who followed the French army back home after the Egyptian Campaign to settle in France, mainly in Marseille and Paris. They faced critical issues of identity and cultural isolation, forging few links with the native French, and their story leads Coller to reflect on the history of France more generally, with due emphasis on the processes of memory formation and forgetting.

From the list:

The best books on the global history of the French Revolution and Empire

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Intimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live

Intimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live

By Marie De Hennezel, Carol Janeway

Why this book?

Intimate Death stands out through its spare and poetic language, its astute observation of the experiences of illness and dying, and matters of human dignity. Marie de Hennezel is a French psychologist. With great compassion and sensitivity, she shares her conversations with patients. She tells of life's unfinished business and how she learned to attend to it. Her writing is beautiful and transformative. It will touch your heart and change how you will view death.

Another book I would like to mention is Henri Nouwen’s Our Greatest Gifts: A Meditation on Dying and Caring. Nouwen is a Catholic priest and…

From the list:

The best books on how to support a dying person

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789

Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789

By Julie Hardwick

Why this book?

This book brings to light the intimate relationships of ordinary young men and women as opposed to those of powerful, public women. While royal women endured contemporary surveillance of their sexuality, pregnancies, and childbirths, the intimate lives of ordinary women must be wrested from archival records. Harwick’s exploration of legal records concerning unmarried pregnant women reveals the various range of strategies they adopted as well as the extensive support, both emotional and financial, they received from their community—clergy, lawyers, midwives, parents, etc.—to the benefit of both mother and child. Such support may well have reduced child abandonment and infanticide.

Hardwick…

From the list:

The best books on the power, sex, and influence of women in early modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre

The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre

By David P. Jordan

Why this book?

Jordan’s is probably the most elegantly written of the five studies and stands out for providing a particularly generous allocation of space to Robespierre’s voice, telling the story of his life as much as possible through his own words. At the same time, Jordan’s intellectual biography is quietly attentive to providing a sense of the complex political environment in which any French revolutionary statesman had to act.

From the list:

The best books on the life of Maximilien Robespierre

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Female Singers on the French Stage, 1830-1848

Female Singers on the French Stage, 1830-1848

By Kimberly White

Why this book?

Through a dazzling collection of sources that include letters, contracts, memoirs, biographies, newspaper reviews, and fictional stories about the figure of the cantatrice, Kimberly White’s French Singers on the French Stage is a brilliant account of the various stages of singers’ lives in nineteenth-century France, beginning with their births and following them up to and past their retirements. In between, she describes their training at the Paris Conservatoire, debuts, marriages, benefits, and scores of other important issues that they grappled with throughout their careers. I do not know of any other work in the field of prima donna or opera…

From the list:

The best books about nineteenth-century divas

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Marie Antoinette: Writings on the Body of a Queen

Marie Antoinette: Writings on the Body of a Queen

By Dena Goodman, Thomas E. Kaiser

Why this book?

This collection of articles offers an intriguing approach to the topic of women, power, and sex by focusing on the many uses of Marie Antoinette. The essays, by prominent historians, art historians, and literary scholars, examine Marie Antoinette as a “site of history” where political and cultural contests occurred. The authors analyze pamphlets, archival materials, portraits, French Revolutionary pornography, and modern films to consider the central questions Marie Antoinette raised about her identity as a foreign queen, woman, wife, mother, and political figure.

She embodied the contradictions in old regime politics, culture, and gender identity and has been used subsequently…

From the list:

The best books on the power, sex, and influence of women in early modern France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Night Rainbow

The Night Rainbow

By Claire King

Why this book?

Five-year-old Peony narrates the story of her life in Southern France and the imaginary world which she creates with the younger Margot. Known as Pea, she lives in a rundown farmhouse, where her recently bereaved and heavily pregnant English mother sleeps most of the time. Bold and brave, Pea’s ability to cope with absent parenting is beautifully imagined. She looks after herself and Margo and makes forays into the community her mother has rejected. The language she uses and her understanding of the world is delightfully quirky.
From the list:

The best contemporary adult novels with young narrators

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Phylloxera: How Wine Was Saved for the World

Phylloxera: How Wine Was Saved for the World

By Christy Campbell

Why this book?

An entertaining story of how the mystery of why vines were withering and dying in swathes in the late 19th century was solved. Campbell brings these ugly miniscule root munching girls interestingly to life by intertwining amusing yarns of the sometimes eccentric methods and people of the time involved in the eventual discovery of the solution to the dying vines.
From the list:

The best storytelling books about how history has influenced wines

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure

By Don Kladstrup, Petie Kladstrup

Why this book?

You don’t need to know about wine or WWII to enjoy the story of how French wine was ingeniously protected from pillaging Germans during the Occupation. It reads like a war movie, about wine. Some anecdotes with a touch of James Bond about them, with others more Allo Allo. Sadly, the heroism involved continues to this day, but now with Lebanese wine producers. Indeed, there is another more recent book covering this very topic too.
From the list:

The best storytelling books about how history has influenced wines

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error

Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error

By Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Barbara Bray

Why this book?

Montaillou, which was published while I was in graduate school, provided a new, highly personalized way to study medieval social history: not with quantitative data but through a nuanced examination of court records that offer a mirror into the everyday lives of obscure villagers. When I first read the “Miracles of Saint Louis” I realized this source for late thirteenth century Paris was nearly as rich as Le Roy Ladurie’s inquisitorial record concerning Montaillou. Had Montaillou not been written, I might not have seen the potential in the “Miracles of Saint Louis,” and thus I might not have written Surviving…

From the list:

The best books on the culture of France and on medieval/modern poverty

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Fear: A Novel of World War I

Fear: A Novel of World War I

By Gabriel Chevallier, Malcolm Imrie

Why this book?

Not as well known as Henri Barbusse’s great novel Under Fire (Le feu), Chevalier’s book should be on everyone’s shelf of works on the Great War. This aptly titled novel is very obviously based on Chevalier’s own experiences serving as a soldier at the front. The writing is haunting and evocative of the extreme trauma of combat, the miseries of life in the trenches, and the emotional responses of young soldiers to the broader society that sent them to war. 

From the list:

The best books on France and the first World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Living Unknown Soldier: A Story of Grief and the Great War

The Living Unknown Soldier: A Story of Grief and the Great War

By Jean-Yves Le Naour, Penny Allen

Why this book?

With some 1.5 million men dead, and several million more wounded, the story of France and the Great War is in many ways simply the story of grief, and this work captures that beautifully. Through the tragic, true story of a wounded amnesiac veteran whose name and family are unknown, Le Naour tells the crucial story of women, families, and an entire culture in mourning, in many ways hopelessly. Yet the veteran and the people who try to help him or claim him as their own retain their dignity and humanity in this account.

From the list:

The best books on France and the first World War

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans

Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans

By Shannon Lee Dawdy

Why this book?

This book is about the city of New Orleans, and how it came to be, as an outpost of 3 empires in turn (the French, the Spanish, and the nascent United States). Its cultural mix gave it a rich identity, but also practical issues - whose legal system would be followed? What language should be used? This legacy created a particular urban environment, and Dawdy’s work brings out the most fascinating stories in how this city came to be.
From the list:

The best books on the history of cities

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris

By Graham Robb

Why this book?

If we want to understand medieval or modern Paris, we need to gain some familiarity with all of the stages along the way. Robb provides some episodic portraits of some of those stages, and the chapter on the eighteenth-century architect Charles-Axel Guillaumot is one of the most arresting discussions I’ve ever seen of how the actions of those living in one epoch can reverberate for generations to come. Guillaumot literally saved Paris from collapsing in on its medieval past by bracing up the swiss-cheese-like network of tunnels that had been left behind by its medieval quarry workers.
From the list:

The best books on the culture of France and on medieval/modern poverty

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of La Dame d'Esprit: A Biography of Marquise Du Châtelet

La Dame d'Esprit: A Biography of Marquise Du Châtelet

By Judith Zinsser

Why this book?

This splendid biography traces the life and times of the Marquise Du Châtelet, born in Paris in December 1706, who became one of the most erudite women of her époque. For fifteen years she was the companion to Voltaire, the best-known of the French philosophes. She mastered calculus and translated Newton’s Principia, in addition to carrying on an active social life and raising several children. She died at the age of 42, following the birth of a daughter conceived with another lover. The author explains her subject’s life course as “from a life of frivolity to a life of…

From the list:

The best biographies of remarkable French women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

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

By Nina Rattner Gelbart

Why 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)…

From the list:

The best biographies of remarkable French women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography

Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography

By Deirdre Bair

Why 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.”

From the list:

The best biographies of remarkable French women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Art of Handmade Living: Crafting a beautiful home

The Art of Handmade Living: Crafting a beautiful home

By Willow Crossley

Why this book?

This author has a knack for making the simplest things look beautiful. Very vintage in style and many projects can be cheaply put together with old bits and bobs you may have around the house. Start collecting any buttons, ribbons, and pretty fabrics!

If you love the vintage look, you can often pick up bits and pieces easily and cheaply (like old fashioned pretty china or decorative items) at charity shops and boot fairs.

From the list:

The best arts and crafts books for people who don’t have time for crafting

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Day We Danced in Underpants

The Day We Danced in Underpants

By Sarah Wilson, Catherine Stock

Why this book?

Embarrassment is a big emotion that can grab a child with hands of steel. In this beautifully rhyming book, an invitation to picnic with the King calls for new clothes. Told through the eyes of a child the very festive occasion takes a turn when Papa’s pants rip. Papa turned red but one can imagine the embarrassment this child had for her family. Fortunately, the King not only saves the day but makes it better. I think this kind of action is a good example of easing an awkward situation.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books dealing with emotions and change

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Sentimental Education

Sentimental Education

By Gustave Flaubert

Why this book?

I think this is a better book than MME Bovary. It's quite in the tradition of Marivaudage but Flaubert has such a light though ruthless touch that at times you just don't know where your sympathies lie. If Flaubert has been a surgeon he's have been an expert with the smallest, finest scalpels! His technique stands in great contrast to the work of Hugo and Zola, and he certainly outmanoeuvres Balzac! I often wish he'd written more, but what he's left us is pure gold. You might like to compare this book with Fontane's Effi Briest – another stunning…

From the list:

The best books for powerful self-examination of man's treatment of man

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force

The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force

By Douglas Porch

Why this book?

If interested in the Legion's history this is the book to read. As its title suggests it’s a complete history of the legendary fighting force. The author Dr. Douglas Porch is an American military historian, and academic. Dr. Porch has written more than eight books and numerous other publications, mostly about French Military History and French Colonialism. 

From the list:

The best books about life in the French Foreign Legion

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Cat. Freya North

Cat. Freya North

By Freya North

Why this book?

A romantic romp set in the Tour de France. I quite fancied writing a book about the Tour myself but I don’t think this book can be bettered. Cat, the heroine, is part of a male press corps and has to fight not only for space but for her stories. I learnt a lot about this cycling race from this book and I like the fact that Freya North has books linked through families. 

From the list:

The best romance books to make you smile

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop

By Willa Cather

Why this book?

Cather’s love of the land here is apparent here as missionary Father Jean arrives from France in the 1800s following the annexation of New Mexico to bring his faith to the reluctant indigenous people, Spanish settlers, and skeptical Mexican priests set in their own hybrid ways. I had to read this book in high school and as an adult in 2021 I have a wholly different take on its whole colonialism thing. But, by the end, even after he retires Father Jean chooses to stay in New Mexico than go back to France (!!) which truthfully speaks to how New…

From the list:

The best books set in New Mexico

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

By Brian Selznick

Why this book?

Don’t worry; this gripping 534-page tale of mystery can sweep you through its pages in a single day, especially since its gritty-but-stunning brown and white artwork acts like a movie as it speeds you and a young orphaned boy through an underground train station and across the streets of Paris and up a clock tower in 1931. Why was the boy’s dead father obsessed with repairing a broken clock? And who is the mysterious angry old man anyway?
From the list:

The best books that weave magnificent art into terrifying tales

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Against Nature (A Rebours)

Against Nature (A Rebours)

By Joris Karl Huysmans, John Howard

Why this book?

This is my recommended therapy against the expected and mundane, a complete inversion of values from late nineteenth-century France. Against Nature (from the French A Rebours) is a refreshingly plotless decadent novel about an aristocratic aesthete, Jean Des Esseintes, who, having grown disgusted with society, retreats into his house to contemplate higher things. These include a tortoise which he plates in gold and encrusts with jewels to highlight the colours on a Persian rug. This book made me want to give up wearing socks.

From the list:

The best books about misfits and wretched excess

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris

Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris

By Michael Allin

Why this book?

I discovered this fascinating and extraordinary story when I was researching tales about travelling with animals for Beastly Journeys. Unlike the other four books in my list, this one has the animal as the central character. And what an animal! Zarafa was captured as a calf in what is now Ethiopia in a plan to cement relationships between the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt and Charles V of France. The year was 1826 and a giraffe had never before been seen in France. Zarafa did the first part of her journey strapped to the back on a camel, and then…

From the list:

The best books on travel with animals

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Knot of Vipers

The Knot of Vipers

By Francois Mauriac

Why this book?

I studied this book at school and found myself coming back to it again and again long after I had grown into adulthood. It’s inspired by a part of France that the author knew well and loved deeply. It was a place of pine forests and great summer heat, and you can smell the trees and feel yourself in that landscape on every page of the work. The book is about an old man nearing the end of his life. He is not a good man nor a kind one: quite the reverse. And yet in these pages, there is…
From the list:

The best books about spiritual places

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Parity of the Sexes

Parity of the Sexes

By Sylviane Agacinski, Lisa Walsh

Why this book?

This slim volume by the French philosopher is one I have read many times; nearly every sentence is underlined. Though not strictly about international affairs, it was Agacinski that first sparked in me the sight of the far horizon: diarchy as the political system that should obtain between men and women. Once you understand that the face of humanity is dual, not single, everything changes. Agacinski was one of the crucial voices that led to the adoption of party candidate parity as the law of the land in France.

From the list:

The best books on feminist international relations

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Colette: Earthly Paradise

Colette: Earthly Paradise

By Colette

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books about women in France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Map of Another Town

Map of Another Town

By M.F.K. Fisher

Why this book?

California-born Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher’s contribution to our culture was revolutionary. Before her, no man or woman wrote about food as they might about art: what was noteworthy in the meal, how the cauliflower was cooked or the paté presented, and how all of it made her feel. She is perhaps best known for her masterpiece The Gastronomical Me, her memoir about her sensory awakening around food, cooking, and love when she moved to Dijon, France. After returning to the States, Fisher moved with her two daughters to Aix-en-Provence following World War II. By now, the memoir of Provence—the…

From the list:

The best books about women in France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Josephine B. Trilogy

The Josephine B. Trilogy

By Sandra Gulland

Why this book?

It can be difficult to recall that, while laying waste to the armies of Europe, proving himself to be one of the finest military commanders in history, Napoleon was writing salty love letters home to his wife. Narrated in first-person diary-style by Josephine, Sandra Gulland’s sensational trio of books is a credit to the sometimes-overlooked genre of historical autobiographical fiction. The events around her life with the self-anointed Emperor of the French are defined with both intimacy and sweep. Josephine emerges as a most intriguing woman, charming and clever, and a full participant aside from her husband as he rises…

From the list:

The best books about women in France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart

Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart

By Jean-Claude Baker, Chris Chase

Why this book?

I can’t remember a 600-page book that I’ve ever read so fast and yes, so hungrily. Baker’s trajectory defies credulity. Above all, it is the paradigmatic story of a Black American targeted by racism in her own country, who found acceptance and fame (and in Baker’s case, so much more) in Paris. From the slums of St. Louis, at nineteen she became an instant sensation with her dazzling performance at La Revue Nègre. She strolled the Champs Élysées with a cheetah and, during the war, hid Jewish refugees in her château in the Dordogne. In the 1963 March on Washington,…

From the list:

The best books about women in France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

By Bill Martin Jr., Eric Carle

Why this book?

You and your baby will just love meeting all the animals in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The story follows a simple pattern that repeats throughout the book. When your baby is born and begins to talk, he will become so familiar with the repetition that he’ll soon be reading the story along with you! Also, the poetic meter and repetitious verse in this story will help to create those neural pathways in your baby’s brain that lay the foundation for future language learning. It’s books like this one that prime your little one to become a…

From the list:

The best books to read to your baby in utero

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution

The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution

By Timothy Tackett

Why this book?

This study of the gradual process whereby the idealistic revolution of 1789 descended into terror is extraordinary for its depth of understanding. It’s a profoundly humane book, one which gives weight to the genuine idealism that drove the revolutionaries, yet does not hold back from showing how, under the pressure of war, fear, and internecine politics, these same revolutionaries adopted terrifying measures in support of their goals. Tackett has an unrivalled knowledge of his source material, and one of the great features of this book is the range of voices that emerge out of the documents: men and women of…

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolutionary Terror

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

By Nancy Horan

Why this book?

I’m married to a novelist, so I like books about writing couples. That’s what drew me initially to this novel about Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and the American writer Fanny Osborne. She was 38, ten years his senior when they met in France in the 1870s; married with children but separated from a philandering husband back in California. Stevenson was single, sickly, immature, and eccentric, but Fanny eventually realized this was outweighed by his kindness and imagination. By turns comic and tragic, the story moves from out West to Europe and back again. Horan’s portrayal of the strengths and…

From the list:

The best books about the romances of famous literary couples

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Vampire Lestat

The Vampire Lestat

By Anne Rice

Why this book?

How is it possible to empathize with, even love, something that is inherently evil?  Enter Lestat, the vampire. Once an aristocrat in pre-revolutionary France, now a centuries-hopping demon, Lestat is utterly alive, possessing an unquenchable appetite for adventure, all despite being a member of the undead. This book reads like foreplay feels, leaves me giddy, as if my blood is slowly being drained away… (See what I did there?)

From the list:

The best binge reads

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters

By Karen Le Billon

Why this book?

The title alone of this book was enough to get me hooked since my experience with young children was that they typically don’t eat anything – and I know I’m not alone. Le Billon gives us a peek into the culinary lives of French parents and shares her best tips for getting kids to not only eat what the adults eat, which in France may involve both beef tongue and smelly blue cheese, but also enjoy it. 

From the list:

The best books on parenting secrets from other cultures

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Kieslowski on Kieslowski

Kieslowski on Kieslowski

By Krzysztof Kieslowski

Why this book?

In contrast to Hollywood, Krzysztof Kieslowski worked under Polish Communism for the first 20 years of his career, before he became better known in the West with the Three Colours Trilogy. In Poland, it wasn’t the box office that determined a filmmaker’s fate but what the state censors thought. His film Blind Chance wasn’t released for six years because it suggested that a person’s political affiliation – whether they become a dissident or party member – was up to, well, blind chance. This is a wonderfully thoughtful book not only about film-making, but working under Communism, what it is…
From the list:

The best books on moviemaking

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Curvilinear Perspective from Visual Space to the Constructed Image

Curvilinear Perspective from Visual Space to the Constructed Image

By Albert Flocon, André Barre

Why this book?

This is my list so I wanted to include this book that was so key to me. This is an art book, but it's a very math-y art book with very few illustrations and almost no how-to step-by-step illustrations. It has pages and pages of “to draw a line from 30 degrees above the horizon and 15 degrees to the left of center etc. etc. etc.” text. It's a dense read, but it was the book that solved six-point perspective for me, which was a topic I'd been working feverishly on for a solid year and couldn't quite nail…

From the list:

The best books for people who draw people

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Other Me

The Other Me

By Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Why this book?

This was the first alternate reality book I read the incorporated the idea of a start-up business and a phone app as a means of visiting or revising a reality. (Oops… spoiler.) It was a unique way to imagine a world where a select few could revise their days, weeks, or even years and the consequences to those who they know and the ripple effect in their lives. 

From the list:

The best books if you want to escape this reality for a little bit

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

By Marthe Cohn, Wendy Holden

Why this book?

Marthe Cohn played a major role in the final year of World War II, spying for the French troops in Germany. She grew up in Metz, France speaking flawless French and German, and became a spy when members of her family and friends were tortured and killed. Faced with death many times, she survived to be decorated by the French government and finally told the story to her children. She lived for many years in Palos Verdes, California, where I live. When I heard her speak, I couldn’t believe that a woman who never reached five feet could have done…

From the list:

The best fiction and nonfiction books about spies

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Rooftoppers

Rooftoppers

By Katherine Rundell, Terry Fan

Why this book?

“On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the English Channel.” From the opening line this is a story you will fall in love with!  Sofie, the orphaned baby in the cello case, is rescued from a shipwreck by an elderly gentleman called Charles who decides to raise her himself. He does an excellent job and I adore Sofie’s bravery, her love of knowledge, and her passion for adventure. Certain that her mother is still alive, Sofie and Charles set off for Paris to look for her, believing that you “never…

From the list:

The best quirky fantasies with feisty “take charge” girls

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

By Adam Gidwitz, Hatem Aly

Why this book?

A warm inn, and a stranger’s tale gather together a group of travelers as they become fascinated by the story of three gifted children that is sweeping the land. I loved the way this book brought the story of the people in the inn and the marvelous children together step by step. Peppered with real historical figures and legends this book is a must-read for the middle-grade medieval enthusiast. 

From the list:

The best books for kids who love a medieval quest

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Family Under the Bridge

The Family Under the Bridge

By Natalie Savage Carlson, Garth Williams

Why this book?

Imagine it’s 1958 and you live in Paris. Imagine your father dies and you lose your home and your mother has to work. Imagine you spend a day in the company of a grumpy old man walking all through the city. Imagine kindness and friendship doing their magic to keep everyone safe. Yes, The Family Under the Bridge is an old-fashioned book with a few shortcomings, but we recommend it nonetheless. This story celebrates Paris and all the generous and delightful people roaming its streets.

From the list:

The best middle grade books that capture the magic of Paris and France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

By Victor Hugo, Lucy Corvino

Why this book?

Paris is a classic city, so a classic on this list is a must. The Hunchback of Notre Dame in its original version is 500+ pages and written for adults. This abbreviated yet spellbinding version is great for younger readers. Walk in 15th century Paris, meet Quasimodo, the gypsy girl Esmeralda, and get lost in a haunting drama.

From the list:

The best middle grade books that capture the magic of Paris and France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Healing

The Healing

By Joy Margetts

Why this book?

Philip de Braose, a despondent French mercenary who has lost his desire to live, is found half-dead and subsequently befriended by Hywel, a Cistercian monk. This moving tale explores the spiritual journey of an initially hopeless soul.

Margetts recounts engaging details of their travels, such as Hywel’s seasickness as they sail from Bordeaux to Bristol, and Philip’s soul-searching as he becomes aware of his own arrogant, selfish attitudes. We also gain a realistic impression of the modest living conditions and spiritual aspirations prevailing in thirteenth-century Cistercian monasteries.

This book has a deeply Christian message, with many Biblical references. As such,…

From the list:

The best spiritual quests set in Antiquity

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Babette's Feast and Other Stories

Babette's Feast and Other Stories

By Isak Dinesen

Why this book?

As an Englishman living in France, this short story resonates with me on so many levels in a topsy-turvy sort of way. Babette is a foreigner (French) living in a foreign land (Norway), and the key part of this foreignness is the contrast between the piety of the two spinsters who employ Babette as their cook, and her supposedly hedonistic French approach to food and life, including a murky past in which she may have been an arsonist during the Commune of Paris. In truth, Babette is an artist who expresses herself through her cooking, and when she wins the…

From the list:

The best food books for thinking, not cooking

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Des grognards à Napoléon : Les cuisines de l'Empire suivi de Recettes pour les cérémonies et le bivouac

Des grognards à Napoléon : Les cuisines de l'Empire suivi de Recettes pour les cérémonies et le bivouac

By Jean-Paul Escalettes

Why this book?

This book is only available in French, but I include it because it provides such an impressive overview of a period when French cooking began to establish itself as Europe’s pre-eminent cuisine. I referred to it frequently during my own research into French gastronomy. In a few short pages we learn about the emergence of the first celebrity chefs and food critics, the evolution of how food was served in polite society in France and other parts of Europe, and the way in which new ingredients such as maize and potatoes became staples of the peasant diet. There is also…

From the list:

The best food books for thinking, not cooking

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Children's Drawings (Le Dessin Enfantin)

Children's Drawings (Le Dessin Enfantin)

By Georges-Henri Luquet, Alan Costall

Why this book?

This book, originally published in French in 1927 (and now at long last translated into English by psychologist Alan Costall), is the earliest systematic analysis of the odd, nonrealistic features of children’s drawings, and the first to argue against those who considered these oddities as defects to be overcome. Instead, children’s drawings at different stages are shown to have their own logic and intelligence. Luquet opposed any kind of intervention or correction by adults, which he felt might destroy children’s love of drawing. He took children’s drawings seriously, never dismissing them in terms of what they lacked. This highly readable…

From the list:

The best books about the value of children’s art

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Catherine's War

Catherine's War

By Julia Billet, Claire Fauvel, Ivanka Hahnenberger

Why this book?

I chose this story to illustrate the plight of Jewish people during the Nazi occupation in France. Catherine's War is based on the true story of a Jewish girl named Rachel Cohen who had to leave her boarding school near Paris and find somewhere safe to live. Rachel has to change her name to Catherine Colin and hide her Jewish identity in order to survive. She was sustained by her beautiful camera, which gave her a record of all that she had to through.

From the list:

The best books on asylum-seeking and displaced children and war

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of No Place to Lay One's Head

No Place to Lay One's Head

By Francoise Frenkel

Why this book?

This incredible memoir reads like a thriller. Polish-born Francoise ran a Berlin bookshop until she was forced to flee from Nazi persecution, first to Paris, then to Southern France. The term ‘unputdownable’ is a terrible cliché, but was literally the case for me with this breathtaking story of escape and survival. Clear your diary before you open the covers of this compelling book.

From the list:

The best WW2 memoirs by brave, witty, resourceful, and downright remarkable women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Metal Fish, Falling Snow

Metal Fish, Falling Snow

By Cath Moore

Why this book?

Metal Fish, Falling Snow is a terrific Australian road trip story, with a gorgeous cover. After Dylan’s mother suddenly dies, her mother’s boyfriend Pat drives her across the country to join her absent father’s family. During the trip, while experiencing the wilds of outback Australia first hand, Dylan gets to know Pat better. The novel deals with grief and evolving relationships, and is a very satisfying read.

From the list:

The best YA books set in Australia

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier

By Thad Carhart

Why this book?

Everyone knows that there are no “French people.” Each region has its particular culture, and Paris is a country unto itself. Focusing on one particular artisan, his clients, and his neighborhood, Carhart helps us to understand what it means to inhabit a single quartier of Paris. It’s one of the most beautiful memoirs I’ve ever read – and I don’t even play the piano!

From the list:

The best books on the culture of France and on medieval/modern poverty

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

By Kathryn J. Edin, H. Luke Shaefer

Why this book?

We can’t understand the present unless we understand the past, but the reverse is also true: I would not be a good historian of medieval poverty – including all the layers of infrastructure, production, famine, religious ideology, and public policy that define, ameliorate and exacerbate poverty – if I did not also pay attention to how these forces work in the present, and to the actual lives of the people who are so affected. This book paints some of the best portraits I’ve seen of people who were trying to make ends meet during the first two decades of the…

From the list:

The best books on the culture of France and on medieval/modern poverty

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Vanished Collection

The Vanished Collection

By Pauline Baer de Perignon, Natasha Lehrer

Why this book?

Pauline Baer de Perignon doesn’t hold anything back – she puts her ego aside as she shares her secret ambitions, doubts and insecurities, triumphs and frustrations on her mission to uncover a distressing chapter in her family’s history. The rhythm and pace are indicative of a book translated from the French - a slow-moving train rather than a speeding locomotive, but that just enhanced the feeling of accompanying the author on her passionate yet painful quest in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
From the list:

The best books set in France that go beyond the rom com

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Love Among the Recipes

Love Among the Recipes

By Carol M. Cram

Why this book?

Even though this book has an element of girl-meets-guy-in-Paris, I included it under the title of ‘books set in France that go beyond the rom com’ because it was so refreshing to read about a woman of a ‘certain age’ who comes into her own during a stay in Paris. The protagonist struggles with real-life issues, not the usual Emily-in-Paris dilemmas. Cram knows Paris like the back of her hand and deftly titillates all the senses with her food-inspired passages.
From the list:

The best books set in France that go beyond the rom com

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Éléphasme, Rhinolophon, Caméluche et autres merveilles de la nature

Éléphasme, Rhinolophon, Caméluche et autres merveilles de la nature

By Philippe Mignon

Why this book?

An obscure and fantastic book, Eléphasme, Rhinolophon, Caméluche et autres merveilles de la nature is a collection of illustrations of imagined beasts. From toads with feathery axolotl gills and seabirds with a probosci's monkey snout to a hairy chicken with hooves, these animals don’t make any sense, but they sure are beautiful to look at.

I stumbled on it back in 2012, during my first trip to Paris, visiting a singular shop called Deyrolle, which is filled with taxidermy, bones, bugs, and other curiosities. This book might be one of the most special things I own, and it’s almost impossible…

From the list:

The best books to take you on a bizarre animal adventure

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Down and Out in Paris and London

Down and Out in Paris and London

By George Orwell

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favourite books because of how it was written. This book inspired me to be a writer. I read it while doing my erasmus in France where I was working as a waiter in a motel. My working hours were long, like in the book and I really got a sense of the struggle George went through in pursuit of his dream to write. It built into me a resilience that I would one day write something of worth that would be read by others and hopefully instill resilience into them.
From the list:

The best books about following your dreams

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Complete Notebooks of Henry James

The Complete Notebooks of Henry James

By Henry James, Leon Edel, Lyall H. Powers

Why this book?

It’s fair to say Henry James not only wrote from a stilted, often arcane, time, and that he was verbose to the extreme, and arrogant beyond most contemporary readers’ tolerances. Yet, he created stories that have lasted and served as resources for some of the greatest films of our time: The Golden Bowl, The Wings of the Dove, and Washington Square, for example. The notebooks, in general, are tough reading, and are meant only for reference. But there is insight galore in the thinking of James about writing and the novel that can aid any writer’s career.
From the list:

The best books to improve your prose writing and creation of fiction story

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Food Network Magazine The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook: 150+ Recipes for Young Chefs

Food Network Magazine The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook: 150+ Recipes for Young Chefs

By Food Network Magazine

Why this book?

Kids’ cookbooks are about 1,000 times more awesome than they were when I was a kid. Recipes are easy to follow, they’re accompanied by colorful photos, and they feature foods kids actually want to make. For me, this cookbook, takes fun to the next level by including little food facts alongside most of the recipes (Did you know french toast isn’t actually French? The dish can be traced back to the Roman Empire – long before France was even a country!) The cookbook features standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes but my favorite chapter is about Fake-Out Cakes. That’s right…

From the list:

The best books for middle graders with an appetite for food facts

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Lost Domain: Le Grand Meaulnes

The Lost Domain: Le Grand Meaulnes

By Hermione Lee, Alain-Fournier, Frank Davison

Why this book?

The story of a boy growing up in France before World War 1, of friendship and love and a mysterious house to which the hero finds it hard to return, I have been mesmerized for a lifetime by this short novel, and it’s the basis for my own novel about Fournier’s life and loves.  

From the list:

The best books set in France with themes to match

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Divisadero

Divisadero

By Michael Ondaatje

Why this book?

Although it begins in California, this novel develops into a story set in France. Two sisters, separated by their father after a violent incident, search for each other and eventually connect via a French recluse, whose life one sister is researching. I love Michael Ondaatje’s writing and this book in particular for its daring sweep of geographical and emotional territory. 

From the list:

The best books set in France with themes to match

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Parisian

The Parisian

By Isabella Hammad

Why this book?

This is a recent first novel, set mostly in France, about a young Palestinian man who goes there to study medicine and falls in love with the daughter of his host. I’m still reading it, and admiring the sureness of touch, the knowledge of history, and above all the sense of the period – it’s set before World War 1 and continues through the 20th century. Brava, Isabella Hammad!

From the list:

The best books set in France with themes to match

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Ripening Seed

The Ripening Seed

By Colette

Why this book?

Anyone who wants to read a love story – all of us, surely – has to start with this story of young love set on the coast of the South of France in the early 20th century. Colette’s prose has been well matched by her translators and she’s simply a jewel of a writer and the first woman who really told the truth about love and sexuality.

From the list:

The best books set in France with themes to match

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Passion of Dolssa

The Passion of Dolssa

By Julie Berry

Why this book?

A healer and a matchmaker cross paths in 12th century France, and….zzzzzzz, right? Or so I thought, until I tried this Printz honor book, a piece of gorgeously written historical fiction that turned out to be a complete page-turner and attention-grabbing thriller. I’m a big TV watcher, so when I say that I was turning off the TV at night to spend more time with this book, you can take that as a 5+ star review. It’s one of my favorite YAs, and for what it’s worth, could just as easily have been shelved as an adult title. 

From the list:

The best books you’d never think were so compulsively readable, but are

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Secret Stealers

The Secret Stealers

By Jane Healey

Why this book?

I’ve become great friends with Healey over the years due to us having the same publisher, and we write similar historical fiction in that we love telling WWII from the female perspective. Honestly, all Jane’s WWII novels are brilliant, but this is my favorite of hers. Her characters are impossible not to love, and we truly see this moment in history through the eyes of women – I can’t get enough of historical feminism! If you want to read about women doing incredible jobs during the war, this is the book for you.

From the list:

The best books to make you fall in love with WWII fiction

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Occupation: The Ordeal of France 1940-1944

Occupation: The Ordeal of France 1940-1944

By Ian Ousby

Why this book?

This was my go-to book when I researched the occupation. Well-written and thorough, it is sensitive, well-balanced, and insightful, neither seeking to blame nor to praise, but to understand a nation in trauma. The photos and personal quotes brought it to life, and it is one of those non-fiction books that the fiction lover can appreciate. It reads seamlessly.

From the list:

The best books about living with the enemy

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Mark of the King

The Mark of the King

By Jocelyn Green

Why this book?

Travel back in time to 18th century France, then Louisiana in this sweeping historical romance Christy Award-winning novel. This epic story will not only fill your travel void, but also touch your heart with its uplifting story of faith, survival, and redemption. This is a multi-re-read for me because of Green’s masterful writing, making me feel as though I was right there with the characters.

From the list:

The best books to scratch your travel itch

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792-1815

Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792-1815

By Elizabeth Sparrow

Why this book?

“A tour de force of research, an essential document for future students of the (Napoleonic Wars) subject.”

Sparrow, “an acknowledged authority on the beginnings of the British Secret Service” is a meticulous researcher, who goes deeply into the world of British and French espionage of the time, and what motivated them to act for or betray their countries. This absolute treasure was given to me by a writer friend. I’ve marked it to bits, with highlights, notes, and Post-Its everywhere. It’s a university course on the deeper facets of the Napoleonic Wars all on its own. Leaving aside heroism, she…

From the list:

The best hidden histories on The Napoleonic Wars

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Napoleon's Wars: An International History

Napoleon's Wars: An International History

By Charles J. Esdaile

Why this book?

This compelling history goes “beyond the legend that Napoleon himself helped create, to form a new, genuinely international context for his military career.”

History is most often written by the victors, and real life is never so one-sided. Esdaile writes as though he lived Napoleon’s life, and shows that many times his decisions were made (or changed) because of acts, or provocation, by British diplomats or agents. The quote by Napoleon’s stepdaughter Hortense says it all: “Any man who becomes the sole head of a great country by means other than heredity can only maintain himself in power if he…

From the list:

The best hidden histories on The Napoleonic Wars

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Castaways

The Castaways

By Clarke Lucy

Why this book?

A small plane crashes on an uninhabited island in the Pacific. The fear and tension among the survivors against the backdrop of paradise and the wreck of the plane is palpable. As the main character Lori struggles to survive her sister, Erin, who missed the flight, has no idea where the plane crashed. As the group of people struggles to survive the hardships, fear grows as it seems there is no way off the island. Chillingly brilliant.

From the list:

The best books which feature transport

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate

Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate

By Susan J. Terrio

Why this book?

Like the other works on my list, Susan Terrio’s book considers how globalization transforms the production, meanings and markets for goods, and the lives of those who make them. Terrio considers how artisanal chocolate makers in Paris and the Bayonne area worked to carve out a high-value market niche for themselves by re-educating the public about the quality and prestige of French handmade chocolates. She documents how they managed to succeed in this project by borrowing terminology and practices from wine connoisseurship, and by linking their handmade chocolate to French identity. I love this book because it provides insights into…

From the list:

The best books about people who make things for a living

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Charlotte Gray

Charlotte Gray

By Sebastian Faulks

Why this book?

Charlotte Gray is a Special Operations Executive who works with the French Resistance in Vichy, France during World War II. It was fascinating to read about this aspect of world war two and the courage and initiative of women like Charlotte (based on the real-life characters of Nancy Wake and Pearl Witherington). And of course, Faulks is a brilliant writer.
From the list:

The best World War Two books featuring strong women

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Apology For The Woman Writing

Apology For The Woman Writing

By Jenny Diski

Why this book?

This is a book about being a celebrity’s biggest fan. In 16th Century France, eighteen-year-old Marie de Gournay reads the essays of the philosopher Montaigne, and is so overwhelmed that she faints. When she finally meets her idol, she stabs herself with a hairpin to prove her devotion. For two blissful months, she lives as his adopted daughter. When he dies four years later, de Gournay devotes herself to editing the writings he left behind, persisting even though she is despised both by the intellectuals of the time and by her own family. I know how it feels to…

From the list:

The best novels to bring you close to historical figures

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Two Towns in Provence: Map of Another Town and a Considerable Town, a Celebration of Aix-en-Provence & Marseille

Two Towns in Provence: Map of Another Town and a Considerable Town, a Celebration of Aix-en-Provence & Marseille

By M.F.K. Fisher

Why this book?

M.F.K. Fisher was not only one of our greatest food writers, she was one of our greatest writers, period. Fisher lived for long periods in France, and the result of two of these sojourns is Two Towns in Provence, which is about Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. These two iconic towns are a mere forty miles apart in distance but worlds apart in temperament, character, and spirit. Fisher captures both of their personalities with her exquisite prose, guided by her sympathy and love for these cities and their people. She is especially wonderful at capturing Marseille, a city that has been…

From the list:

The best books about the South of France

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of Interpreting the French Revolution

Interpreting the French Revolution

By François Furet, Elborg Forster

Why 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."

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolution and Napoleon

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Book cover of The Glass Blowers

The Glass Blowers

By Daphne du Maurier

Why 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.

From the list:

The best books on the French Revolution and Napoleon

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.