The most recommended books on Louis XVI

Who picked these books? Meet our 11 experts.

11 authors created a book list connected to Louis XVI, and here are their favorite Louis XVI books.
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Book cover of Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's Daughter

Mary Ryan Author Of Under the Wild Sky: A Saga of Love and War in Revolutionary Ireland

From the list on unusual history that fascinated me.

Who am I?

I live in Dublin, Ireland and am the author of eleven novels, many of them Irish bestsellers, all of them translated into foreign languages, most of them also published in the US by St Martin’s Press. A lawyer by profession, I gave up my law practice to concentrate on writing fiction, beginning with an historical novel Whispers in the Wind which was a No. 1 Irish bestseller. History is my passion.

Mary's book list on unusual history that fascinated me

Why did Mary love this book?

How many people know what happened to Marie Antoinette’s daughter? This book focuses on this tragic, formidable woman and her extraordinary life, from her birth in a crowded bedroom where they had to break the widows to provide fresh air to her fainting mother, to her three year imprisonment during the Terror, to her secret escape from France after the murder of her family. She found refuge in several European countries and married her cousin, the Duc d’Angoulême. Many historians claim that on the abdication of his father (Charles X, a brother of the executed Louis XVI), he became King for twenty minutes and his wife, thereby, became briefly the last Queen of France of the senior Bourbon line. 

By Susan Nagel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marie-Therese, Child of Terror as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In December 1795, seventeen-year-old Marie-Therese, the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, fled Paris's notorious Temple Prison. Kept in solitary confinement after her parents' brutal execution during the Terror, she had been unaware of the fate of her family, save the cries she heard of her young brother being tortured in an adjacent cell. She emerged to an uncertain future: an orphan, exile and focus of political plots and marriage schemes of the crowned heads of Europe. Susan Nagel tells a remarkable story of an astonishing woman whose life was shrouded in mystery, from her birth in…


The Life of Louis XVI

By John Hardman,

Book cover of The Life of Louis XVI

Munro Price Author Of Napoleon: The End of Glory

From the list on the French Revolution and Napoleon.

Who am I?

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

Munro's book list on the French Revolution and Napoleon

Why did Munro love this book?

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

By John Hardman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

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

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

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

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


Napoleon

By Philip Dwyer,

Book cover of Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

Peter McPhee Author Of Liberty or Death: The French Revolution

From the list on understanding the French Revolution.

Who am I?

I have spent much of my adult life studying the French Revolution with students who, like me, are engrossed by the drama, successes and tragedies of the Revolution, and the scale of the attempts to arrest or reverse it. Why and how did an apparently stable regime collapse in 1789? Why did it prove to be so difficult to stabilize a new order? How could claims to “liberty” and “equality” be balanced? And why was there a period of “terror” in 1793-94? When the Revolution was finally over, how had France and other parts of the world been changed? The answers to those questions remain open and continue to fascinate. 

Peter's book list on understanding the French Revolution

Why did Peter love this book?

Napoleon Bonaparte brought a decade of revolutionary upheaval to an end when he seized power with the army in November 1799, but he had been made a general by the Revolution and was one of its most celebrated soldiers. The Revolution opened up opportunities for this Corsican “outsider” which would have been impossible before the Revolution: he grabbed them. Dwyer’s prize-winning account of Napoleon’s checkered rise to power at the age of thirty is also a gripping narrative of the unpredictability and drama of the revolutionary decade. It reveals the making of a man whose brilliance, military genius, and vision was qualified by his cynicism, cruelty, and vanity. 

By Philip Dwyer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Napoleon Bonaparte's rise to power was neither inevitable nor smooth; it was full of mistakes, wrong turns and pitfalls. During his formative years his identity was constantly shifting, his character ambiguous and his intentions often ill-defined. He was, however, highly ambitious, and it was this ruthless drive that advanced his career. This book examines the extraordinary evolution of Napoleon's character and the means by which at the age of thirty he became head of the most powerful country in Europe and skilfully fashioned the image of himself that laid the foundation of the legend that endures to this day.


Marie Antoinette

By Dena Goodman (editor), Thomas E. Kaiser (editor),

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

Kathleen Wellman Author Of Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France

From the list on women in early modern France.

Who am I?

As a historian of early modern France and a professor at Southern Methodist University, I have taken students to Paris on a study abroad program for more than twenty summers. Students were invariably intrigued by the relationship of Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Diane de Poitiers. The young prince married Catherine de Medici at the age of fourteen but the thirty-six-year-old Diane de Poitiers became his mistress when he was sixteen and remained so for the rest of his life. The complexities of that relationship and the significance of both women led me to conclude that the history of the Renaissance could be told through the lives of the queens and mistresses.

Kathleen's book list on women in early modern France

Why did Kathleen love 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 to address political and gender issues to the present. Each essay offers a distinct, intriguing perspective on the reciprocal influence of this queen and the history of France. The collection reveals the wealth of purposes this queen served and the rich variety of interpretations she provoked.

By Dena Goodman (editor), Thomas E. Kaiser (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Marie-Antoinette is one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in all of French history. This volume explores the many struggles by various individuals and groups to put right Marie's identity, and it simultaneously links these struggles to larger destabilizations in social, political and gender systems in France.

Looking at how Marie was represented in politics, art, literature and journalism, the contributors to this volume reveal how crucial political and cultural contexts were enacted "on the body of the queen" and on the complex identity of Marie. Taken together, these essays suggest that it is precisely because she came to…


Marie Antoinette

By Antonia Fraser,

Book cover of Marie Antoinette: The Journey

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

From the list on the French Revolution without losing your head.

Who am I?

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

Stew's book list on the French Revolution without losing your head

Why did Stew love this book?

This is a must read for visitors to Versailles Palace.

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

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

By Antonia Fraser,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

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


Pure

By Andrew Miller,

Book cover of Pure

Jude Tresswell Author Of The Refuge Bid

From the list on featuring the lives of coal miners.

Who am I?

I write fictional, contemporary gay mysteries, but I prefer to read facts and I enjoy the research that accompanies my storytelling. Industrial history and geology fascinate me, so it isn’t any wonder that I set my tales in the Durham hills of northeast England. As some of my videos in the link show, there are many abandoned quarries, lead and coal mines in the area. I can become emotional when I think about the socio-political history of mining and quarrying. My latest tale reflects my interest in quarrying and my five recommendations reflect a passion that has its roots in the UK’s once thriving, now defunct, coal industry.

Jude's book list on featuring the lives of coal miners

Why did Jude love this book?

This final choice reprises the idea that a miner’s life was hard, though that isn’t the focus of the story. The plot sounds unpromising, but I loved Pure! Set in the time of Louis XVI, a provincial engineer is tasked with demolishing a Parisian church and relocating the bones of its graveyard. He employs a motley crew of coal miners to carry out the work as he knows they’ll have the necessary strength, stamina, and skill. One little episode that featured them stayed with me. The engineer stands on a platform to address the miners but years of crouching in narrow coal seams have bent and misshapen them so much that they can’t stand straight enough to see him. He was shocked. I wasn’t.

By Andrew Miller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD (2011)

A year of bones, of grave-dirt, relentless work. Of mummified corpses and chanting priests.

A year of rape, suicide, sudden death. Of friendship too. Of desire. Of love...

A year unlike any other he has lived.

Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. Into their midst comes Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, provincial engineer charged by the king with demolishing it.

At first Baratte sees this as a chance to clear the burden of history, a…


A Place of Greater Safety

By Hilary Mantel,

Book cover of A Place of Greater Safety

Stephanie Ellis Author Of The Woodcutter

From Stephanie's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Poet Word eater

Stephanie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Stephanie love this book?

I am a big historical fiction fan and, in recent years, have discovered the work of Hilary Mantel. This book focuses on The French Revolution and the drama around it. It is an epic tale in itself, and Mantel brings the frontrunners of the political upheavals – Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins - to the fore in a very human manner. 

Despite the darkness of that time, there are threads of humour to be found in the writing, much of which made me chuckle aloud.

The sense of atmosphere, of place, of people, it was just perfect. I didn’t want to leave the world the author had created – doorstopper size, though it is!

By Hilary Mantel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Place of Greater Safety as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This novel follows the lives of three major figures in the French Revolution - Robespierre, Danton and Desmoulins - from their childhoods in Northern France through to the last terrifying moments of their execution. The book juxataposes private occasions with public events.


When the King Took Flight

By Timothy Tackett,

Book cover of When the King Took Flight

Peter McPhee Author Of Liberty or Death: The French Revolution

From the list on understanding the French Revolution.

Who am I?

I have spent much of my adult life studying the French Revolution with students who, like me, are engrossed by the drama, successes and tragedies of the Revolution, and the scale of the attempts to arrest or reverse it. Why and how did an apparently stable regime collapse in 1789? Why did it prove to be so difficult to stabilize a new order? How could claims to “liberty” and “equality” be balanced? And why was there a period of “terror” in 1793-94? When the Revolution was finally over, how had France and other parts of the world been changed? The answers to those questions remain open and continue to fascinate. 

Peter's book list on understanding the French Revolution

Why did Peter love 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 native Austria, and Europe was engulfed in a generation of bloodshed. The great American historian of the Revolution, Timothy Tackett, recounts the engrossing story of the botched flight and its repercussions for a cast of unforgettable characters.    

By Timothy Tackett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When the King Took Flight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On a June night in 1791, King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette fled Paris in disguise, hoping to escape the mounting turmoil of the French Revolution. They were arrested by a small group of citizens a few miles from the Belgian border and forced to return to Paris. Two years later they would both die at the guillotine. It is this extraordinary story, and the events leading up to and away from it, that Tackett recounts in gripping novelistic style.

The king's flight opens a window to the whole of French society during the Revolution. Each dramatic chapter spotlights a different…


Book cover of Becoming Marie Antoinette

Juliana Cummings Author Of Sleeping With the Impaler: A Historical Romance About Vlad the Impaler

From the list on historical fiction that bring real people to life.

Who am I?

I’ve been a reader and writer of historical fiction for as long as I remember. As a writer, my goal is to bring these figures from the past alive again. These were real people and I want my readers to see that they are not just photos or stories in a history book.

Juliana's book list on historical fiction that bring real people to life

Why did Juliana love this book?

Juliet Gray brought Marie Antoinette to life in this book. We got to understand her from such a young girl who had so much pressure put on her. We see her as kind and childlike but we also see how Marie does mature into a woman who strives to have a loving marriage with her husband while they rule France.

By Juliet Grey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This enthralling confection of a novel, the first in a new trilogy, follows the transformation of a coddled Austrian archduchess into the reckless, powerful, beautiful queen Marie Antoinette.
 
Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother’s political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.

Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in…


Book cover of The Oxford History of the French Revolution

Jeremy Black Author Of France: A Short History

From the list on the history of France.

Who am I?

I am a historian with wide-ranging interests and publications, including, in European history, histories of Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Mediterranean, eighteenth-century Europe, Europe 1550-1800, Europe since 1945, and European warfare.

Jeremy's book list on the history of France

Why did Jeremy love 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.

By William Doyle,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Since its first publication to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution in 1989, this Oxford History has established itself as the Revolution's most authoritative and comprehensive one-volume history in English, and has recently been translated into Chinese. Running from the accession of Louis XVI in 1774, it traces the history of France through revolution, terror, and counter-revolution to the final triumph of Napoleon in 1802. It also analyses the impact of
events in France upon the rest of Europe and the world beyond. The study shows how a movement which began with optimism and general enthusiasm soon became a…