Hi Frugalistas! While no one is travelling at the moment my France Travel Planning Facebook group is still loving discussing all things France (you can join here if you are not already a member). Recently, we had fun sharing our favorite books about France. We had such a great discussion that I asked my friend and dedicated bibliophile Sandy to write the best recommended books about France list into this fantastic post.
Because I know many readers prefer to support local independent bookshops, North American readers can purchase most of the books in this post by clicking here.
Best Recommended Books About France: History Books about France
How Paris Became Paris: the invention of the modern city – Joan DeJean
How Paris transformed from a typical medieval city into the modern Parisian city much admired today, largely due to a model developed in the 17th century. This involved removing fortifications and introducing long boulevards, public parks and open bridges without houses.
Venues for entertainment and recreation were designed and built and well planned lighting and sidewalks makes it one of the world’s most walkable cities today. This revolutionized not just France bu the world’s concept of cities and urban life.
You can see more of Joan DeJean’s books about France at this link.
The Only Street in Paris: Life the Rue des Martyrs – Elaine Sciolino
Elaine Sciolino, was once the former Paris Bureau Chief of the New York Times and in this book she takes us on a tour of her favourite street in Paris.
Full of fascinating history, from Jesuit beheadings to French Impressionist painters and colourful modern characters her anecdotes and descriptions will leave you yearning to explore Rue Des Martyrs yourself!
Wars That I Have Seen – Gertrude Stein
A personal memoir from the formidable Stein, who emerged from the Nazi occupation of France with her Picasso collection, and poodles, intact. Written by hand right in front of the enemy, Stein depicts the heroic exploits of the French resistance fighters and the battles for liberation.
Paris to the Past : Traveling through French history by Train – Ina Caro
Covering twenty-five one day train trips from Paris, over seven hundred years of French history. A charming book that will change your itinerary as you yearn to see for yourself the routes taken by Joan of Arc or Marie Antoinette and her little dog and many others.
Travelling on the trains in France is a joy at the best of times and this book helps you to traverse the network with informative and often humorous DIY narratives.
Best Novels Set in France
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind
This delectable novel is as much a tale of murder and depravity as it is about perfume and the making of it. A fantasy about a young boy born with an exceptional sense of smell that goes on to become obsessed with the scent of a particular young woman.
Set in the slums of eighteenth century Paris, this novel is beautifully written and is the perfect form of escapism from a serious world.All the Light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and many others.
When the Nazis occupy Paris a young girl and her Museum Curator father flee to the walled citadel of Saint Malo along with a valuable jewel to protect from the museum. Meanwhile a young orphan in Germany is enlisted to use his radio talents to hunt down the resistance.
As their stories interweave an enchanting and tender narrative occurs that will make you want to relish every word.
The Room on rue Amelie – Kristin Harmel
Set in Paris during World War ll about an American woman, a handsome pilot and a young Jewish girl who’s world’s collide unexpectedly. An emotional tribute to the strength of the human spirit, and the power of love in the face of adversity.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
This international bestseller tells the story of Rene, the concierge in a grand Parisian apartment building. Her carefully manicured and steady life is changed with the death of one of the tenants and a relationship with a troubled young girl in the building. Witty, charming and a beautiful constructed story, that’s a modern day fairytale in many ways.
The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah
The number one bestseller by acclaimed author Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale is about two sisters living in the French countryside whose worlds turn upside down with the onset of World World ll and the horrors and trials that test their strength and relationship, particularly as they are forced to take very different paths.
A gripping and very emotional read that will stay with you for years.
Paris The Novel – Edward Rutherford
This epic saga tells the story of four families across many centuries, through the revolution, the bourgeois and the hard working Gascons.
These families are bound by love and relationships and bought together by their glorious city. An interesting and well researched take on Paris through many lenses.
The Paris Architect – Charles Belfoure
The story of a talented architect set in 1942 Paris and World War ll, this is a beautiful account of an ordinary man’s reluctant decent into heroism by hiding a local Jewish man. Full of tension, intrigue and often quite unpredictable, you will not be able to put this down.
The Alice Network – Kate Quinn
Set in both 1915 and 1947 with two related stories in alternating chapters, this novel is about a British Spy network who are mostly women, and a young woman struggling to adapt after the war has ended. Part spy story, part love story, the narrative covers a range of emotions and is a relatively easy read given the subject matter.
The Accursed King Series – Maurice Druhon
The author was a French resistance fighter during WW2 and went on to write The Iron King, The Strangled Queen and The Poisoned Crown, all bestselling fiction in his The Accursed Kings series.
For fans of history, intrigue, and those looking to fill the hole after Game of Thrones.
Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller
The controversial classic by renowned American author and Playwright Henry Miller, The Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn have been studied and discussed in literary circles for decades.
Considered a masterpiece by many, this novel describes the life of a misogynist living in Paris during the depression and it uses very descriptive and often vulgar language and vivid sexual descriptions.
It was banned in America for 27 years after it was published!
This book is difficult to find, but I managed to track it down here:
The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George
Jean Perdu runs a bookshop on a restored barge on the river Seine and has a rare gift for finding books that sooth his customer’s troubles. His own broken heart however, remains unhealed and a new neighbor helps inspire him to set sail in the barge and seek out new adventures in Provence.
This author also published the equally charming The Little French Bistro:
The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
Hadley is a shy twenty eight year old woman in Chicago in 1920 when she meets Ernest Hemingway who inspires her to start writing, and embark on a whirlwind courtship and marriage. The two set sail for France in the Jazz Age of Paris and take on a series of challenges to their relationship and their new family. An incredible insight into Hemingway and his first wife, and the life of artists and intellectuals in Paris at the time.
Recommended Books About French People and French Society
I’ll Never Be French No Matter What I Do – Mark Greenside
Stories from a New Yorker writer and academic who decides to make a life for himself in the French countryside. A fun, playful, read that often explores not just the challenges of starting a new life in a foreign country but also about failing at new skills, relationships and learning things the hard way.
French Kids Eat Everything – Karen Le Billon
The full title of this book is “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” which pretty much seems up the entire premise of it.
Why are French children able to eat so much and yet have low obesity rates, allergies and more?
60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: What Makes the French So French? – Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow
How can the French smoke, drink and eat more fat than any other race yet live longer and have fewer health issues? How do they have such a strong economy yet so many holidays?
These questions and more are answered in this comprehensive book which explores all the aspects of being French and what sets them apart from everyone else.
Best Books About Moving to France
A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle
One of the best selling books ever published about living in France as an expatriate, this is about Peter Mayle and his wife throwing caution to the wind and doing what so many others have dreamt about. Their conversion of a two hundred year old farmhouse in the Luberon Valley comes with many hilarious and often cautionary tales as well as a cast of eccentric and colourful characters.
The book went on to spawn a movie and several sequels including My Twenty Five Years in Provence and Toujours Provence.
You can find Peter Mayle’s other books about living in France here:
L’Appart : The delights and disasters of making my Paris home – David Leibovitz
As the title suggest this book tells the story of this bestselling author and Chef’s ex-pat life in Paris and the trials and tribulations of setting up home in Paris. It includes many recipes he creates as he explores the culture and especially the food of France.
North American readers can support local independent bookshops and purchase most of these books by clicking here.
About Sandy Papas: Sandy is an Australian Gen-X Blogger and writer for her own destination site on Greece at Greece Travel Secrets. She travels to Europe each year and is a long term Francophile. She is also an avid reader and has an article on her site about books set in Greece. Her favorite book on this list is Perfume.