Our experts have chosen the best books on France including French literature, French novels and fiction, French history and leading French figures such as Charles de Gaulle, Marie Curie, Emile Zola, Coco Chanel, Simone De Beauvoir, Voltaire and Napoleon. Some French book recommendation lists are city specific such as the best books on Paris, some based on the country of France and some on topics such as French cooking.
If you are looking for French fiction, David Bellos of Princeton had made his selection of the greatest French novels. Other classics of French literature include Stendhal's Le rouge et le noir, Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, and Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. The Nobel Prize in Literature has been won nearly 20 times by French authors, including Albert Camus (1957), Jean-Paul Sartre (1964, though he refused it) and most recently Patrick Modiano (2014) and Annie Ernaux (2022).
We have spoken to several French experts including Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, a leading philosopher and sociologist about books on State, Power and Violence and Thomas Piketty, an economist, gave recommendations on the best books on historical change and economic ideology.
Booker Prize-winning translator David Bellos says Les Misérables is the greatest novel of all time. When it came out, “it was an event bigger than the launch of Titanic and Avatar put together.” He picks the five greatest French novels.
The social and political development of France has been strongly contested ever since the country finally became a republic for good in 1870. Here, Professor Richard Vinen of King’s College London recommends five books that will help you understand modern France, all written in a golden age of French historical writing.
In spite of all the online ads promising to teach you a new language in a matter of minutes, learning a language takes time and commitment—and motivation is critical. Here Vincent Serrano-Guerra, author of a book for learning French that focuses on the 20,000 words that are the same in French and English, explains how best to set about it and recommends some books that’ll also get you familiar with French culture.
Historical fiction offers us emotional insight into impactful historic events and an immersive sense of time and place, says David Lawday, the longtime Economist foreign correspondent and author of a new novel set during the Siege of Paris in 1870. Here he highlights five of the best historical novels set in France of centuries past.
The Campaigns of Napoleon
by David G Chandler
by Duff Cooper
With Eagles to Glory: Napoleon and His German Allies in the 1809 Campaign
by John H Gill
Private Memoirs Of The Court Of Napoleon
by Louis François Joseph Bausset-Roquefort
With Napoleon in Russia: Memoirs of General de Caulaincourt, Duke of Vicenza
by Armand de Caulaincourt
How did Napoleon Bonaparte, an upstart Corsican, go on to conquer half of Europe in the 16 years of his rule? Was he a military genius? And was he really that short? Historian Andrew Roberts, author of a bestselling biography of Napoleon, introduces us to the books that shaped how he sees l’Empereur—including little-known sources from those who knew Napoleon personally.
It’s a revolution that still resonates and yet it resists easy interpretation. Lynn Hunt, a leading historian of the French Revolution, tells us what the events of 1789 and later years really meant, and what relevance they have for us today.
The Complete War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle
by Charles De Gaulle
Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb
by François-René de Chateaubriand
by Charles Péguy
Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection
by Raymond Aron
The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France Since 1944
by Henry Rousso
Charles de Gaulle had ‘a certain idea of France’ which even he didn’t manage to articulate clearly. De Gaulle biographer and one of Britain’s leading historians of modern France, Julian Jackson, talks us through some key books to get a sense of France’s wartime leader and president, Charles de Gaulle.
The Belle Epoque combined a preoccupation with the noblesse of the old regime with the seeds for modernism, says Oxford history professor Ruth Harris, author of an award-winning book on the Dreyfus affair. She picks the best books on a golden period in France before the outbreak of World War I.
French theater is appreciated as much in reading as in performance. Princeton University’s Florent Masse offers us a reading from the point of view of teaching theater. How did the great men of theater—such as Jouvet, Copeau, or Vitez—build their learning? Discover the principles and references that guide the best directors. (You can also read this interview in the original French)
The historian tells us how French condescension towards America goes back to the 18th century, but more recent antagonisms can be traced to the Second World War
The author and historian Richard Wolin explains that French people in the late 1960s were desperate for a utopian political alternative.
Hazareesingh’s book choices include de Gaulle’s “very readable” war diaries. In books of condolences after the leader’s death, people wrote things like, “Goodbye Charles, you were greater than Napoleon”
The historian and author chooses five books on de Gaulle and the Resistance. He says the British tried to veto de Gaulle’s famous 1940 speech from London calling on the French to stand up to German occupation
Using examples that range from vaudeville plays to secret societies, Josefowicz paints a colourful picture of the period when, inspired by Napoleon, the French were whipped into an Egyptian frenzy
Author and founder of Virago Press decries the absolute silence of the church during the Holocaust, and discusses five books on the “dark and murky side” the French have now “faced up to”