Traveling overseas is always an adventure unlike any other. Every destination has its own stories, experiences, and surprises unique to each tourist, especially in France. For centuries, countless people were awed, captivated, and shocked during their travel to the country. Being one of the most historically significant and culturally rich nations worldwide makes France a fascinating travel spot for avid adventurers, history buffs, and art lovers… but there’s more to this country than delicious cuisine, sensual language, and impressive architecture. Delve deeper into your French travels by reading these ten best books about France. For warning, though: you might have read some of these books in high school (or should have). However, as classic literature goes, they’re intrinsic pieces to the puzzle that is France!
Going back to the classics is never a mistake when reading books about France. One of the most celebrated novels in English literature, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a literary masterpiece. Set in London and Paris during the French Revolution, it follows the story of friends Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, who fell in love with the same woman, Lucie Marnette. Unlike other books about the French Revolution, Dickens’ portrayal of reality and terror of the historical events leading to the French’s bloody relief from aristocratic tyranny is beautiful and frightening.
A Moveable Feast is a memoir of writer Ernest Hemingway’s life in 1920s Paris. The book recounts his experiences as a young, struggling journalist and writer. It includes tales of his struggles, his relationship with his first wife, and his frustrations writing a good novel amidst the circle of the era’s literary giants like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The origin of the famous quote, “All for one and one for all, united we stand, divided we fall.”, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas is a French classic. This historical romance follows the adventures of musketeers Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and cadet D’Artagnan during the time of French Kings Louis XIII and XIV. The Three Musketeers is an exciting novel filled with love affairs, vendettas, funny dialogues, drama, and daring duels.
After the fire at Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in 2019, Victor Hugo’s classic novel regained popularity as the year’s best-selling book on Amazon. It follows the story of the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda and the three men who loved her: Archdeacon Frollo, the hunchback Quasimodo, and Captain Phoebus, along with the lives of different people in 19th-century French society.
Hugo wrote the novel while predicting the demise of Notre Dame after years of neglect and decay. Its success paved the way for the cathedral’s restoration while cementing Notre Dame as a symbol of human accomplishment and endurance.
No best books about France list are complete without Victor Hugo’s historical novel Le Misérables. The book talks about France after the French Revolution from the points of view of Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, and Inspector Javert. Le Misérables shows how happiness and goodness can still happen in a sea of greed, ignorance, and extreme poverty.
Where the Light Falls is an excellent historical fiction by Allison Pataki and her brother Owen Pataki. Set during the French Revolution, it tells the story of a young aristocratic widow and her fight for independence against her powerful, vindictive uncle. The novel shows the effects of the Revolution, its terror, and why the lessons from this part of history are still significant today.
For readers who share a love for philosophy, Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an ideal companion read to your travel to France. The novel explores the philosophy found in everyday life. It’s a story about two intelligent and magnificent women who had to hide their brilliance to confer to society’s idea about females.
Middle-aged concierge Renee Michel and 13-year-old Paloma Josse cross paths with each other after a cultured Japanese man moves into their building. Finding Renee fascinating after their encounters, Paloma and their Japanese neighbor decide that she had the refinement of a hedgehog: elegant and solitary.
This vibrant and joyful memoir contains the stories and experiences of 36-year-old Julia Child in Paris and Marseilles after settling in France post-WWII due to her husband’s job. My Life in France tells the tale of how Child fell in love with French cuisine and approach to life after the restlessness and isolation upon moving to another country.
- Mastering the Art of French Eating: From Paris Bistros to Farmhouse Kitchens, Lessons in Food and Love – Ann Mah
A memoir both similar and different to My Life in Paris, Mastering the Art of French Eating tells the story of Ann Mah’s adventures in Paris alone after her husband’s job called him away for a year in Iraq. A committed Francophile and lover of food, Mah decided to fight away the loneliness and fear in a way she knows best: eating her way into French cuisine.
A timeless classic in children’s literature, the Madeline book series is a great book recommendation for young travelers to France. Filled with colorful illustrations of Paris and a memorable rhyme scheme, Madeline is well-loved by readers of all ages. It follows the stories and experiences of young Madeline, inspired by Ludwig Bemelman’s own life experiences. A joyful, curious little girl, Madeline teaches children that there’s no better way to learn than learning from your mistakes.