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Recommendation for a book on French History

I've always read extensively on English History. However , we are traveling to France for the first time this year. I'd like to read up and become more familiar with French history. Any recommendations for books ( or novels ). Looking for a few books that will give me a good overview of french history and then maybe some recommendations for in depth reading.

Posted by
20478 posts

In depth: "A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century". Barbara Tuchman
Read this and you'll understand the reason for 500 years of French-English animosity. Also, the fall of the Templars, the Valois Curse, Black Death, and other fascinating history.

Posted by
1838 posts

Maurice Druon has a series on the medieval French kings, starting with Philip the Fair who murdered Jacques Demolay.

Sharan Newman has an interesting mystery series set around 1200.

And for fun, Cara Black's mysteries set in Paris, although they are pretty contemporary.

Posted by
1056 posts

In the back of most of Rick Steves’ country books is a list of non-fiction, fiction and movies about each country that will help prepare you for your trip. I recommend that you take a look there for suggestions. If you don’t own Rick’s France book you could check it out at your local library.

Posted by
14580 posts

I would recommend the survey book on France by Gordon Wright you want the general historical background to the mid-1960s.

For novels how about those by V.Hugo, E. Zola, or Stendahl?

The 500 years of animosity and rivalry between England and France ended in 1904, the year of the signing of the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale, when both countries agreed to square away their colonial rivalries.

What sort of "in depth reading?"

Posted by
7078 posts

RS lists of recommended books and movies are also here on the website under Explore Europe/country/plan. Here is the list for France.

Posted by
504 posts

A good summary from the Revolution to 2015 is Jonathan Fenby's France

Posted by
4637 posts

Fred says: "For novels how about those by V.Hugo, E.Zola or Stendhal?"
I would add Alexander Dumas. The two most known: The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo.

Posted by
14580 posts

I would suggest also in terms of movies "The Count of Monte Cristo" with G. Depardieu. There are other versions you can choose from.

One French movie with the Revolution as the background I like and recommend is "La Nuit de Varennes." with an international cast all speaking French. Harvey Keitel is the sole American in this film.

Posted by
1 posts

The Discovery of France by Graham Robb is a great take on how France came to be. Robb is a historian who also bicycled extensively around France, and the book focuses on the 19th century and the creation of the core French identity. Full of fascinating details and stories of villages and history.

Posted by
47 posts

Thanks everyone,

I forgot about the list at the back of RS book. I'll certainly delve into a few of your suggestions.

Posted by
67 posts

Stephen Clarke's 1000 Years of Annoying the French is aimed at Brits, but history is history, right? This is a very comprehensive, and often humorously sarcastic, look at French history and culture. I bought my copy in the excellent bookshop in Antibes while on the My Way France tour. Great tour!