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Book on French history?

I'm taking Rick's "Paris and the Heart of France" tour this spring and would love to read a good book on a comprehensive history of France to prepare. I'm particularly interested in the House of Bourbon. Any recommendations welcome!

Posted by
1976 posts

I can't think of a comprehensive history off the top of my head, but I can recommend the biography "Marie Antoinette: The Journey" by Antonia Fraser. The book is well-written, interesting, and covers the current political climate as well as the tragic, intimate life of the queen.

Posted by
1621 posts

Lauren, I'm currently reading "A Brief History of France: People, History, and Culture" by Cecil Jenkins. It might be helpful to you.

Posted by
16165 posts

Earlier than the House of Bourbon was the House of Valois. Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror", centering on a single person in 14th century is fascinating. The fall of the Knights Templar, the Black Death, the Hundred Years War, and more. The Sire de Coucy was a Marshall of France and the son-in-law of Edward III of England, owner of the strongest castle in France. Read it and you'll know why the friction between France and England is so deep seated.

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806 posts

I found Alistair Horne's Seven Ages of Paris fascinating and read it before our trip to France; it covers the city from 1180 to 1969, focusing on Philippe Auguste, Henri IV, Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Commune, WWI, and de Gaulle. There is also a 14-page introduction, from Caesar to Abelard, to cover the millennium before Philippe Auguste.

Posted by
4763 posts

You might try The Course of French History by Pierre Goubert. See Amazon for a description and sample, or your library. It's 360+ pages from the Dark Ages to the 1980s.

I also enjoyed Paris by Edward Rutherfurd (who wrote Sarum, Londinium, New York, and others like them). It's historical fiction tracing several families through the centuries. Unlike his other books, this one skips around in time, which I didn't appreciate, but it's engaging and full of good Paris history (not so much France as a whole). Long but absorbing.

Posted by
17 posts

Robert Cole's book, A Traveller's History of France" is excellent. Recommended by David McCullough in his book's bibliography, "A Greater Journey" which is another book I highly recommend before going to Paris especially. It's about Americans in France during the 19th century.

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5563 posts

I've another biography to recommend, it's Paul Murray Kendall's Louis XI: The Universal Spider. I read it many years ago, but I loved it and it's been one of those books that I've always remembered. I think I'm about ready to re-read it. I know more about France than I did when I first read it.

Posted by
83 posts

You might enjoy Graham Robb's book The Discovery of France. I also agree with the earlier suggestion of Antonia Fraser's book on Marie Antoinette. Fraser also wrote Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King. I love Fraser's books; they are well-researched and highly readable.

Posted by
7683 posts

Another vote for Graham Robb's The Discovery of France.