I've read many books about France, the ones below are the ones I have either enjoyed or found informative and interesting, or all three. Most of them can be picked up at W H Smiths, San Francisco Book Company or Village Voice if you are in Paris.

Eating out & Food

One of the pleasures, and hazards, of life in Paris is the abundance of good places to eat and the marvellous food they serve in these places. Whilst many of the cafes and restaurants do have multilingual menus, others do not. So for the non-French speaker it can be a bit daunting at first to be faced with a totally French menu. And the fear of ordering calves head or raw beef by mistake leads many to play safe and stick to steaks and omelettes. However all you need to really pile on the pounds and feel at ease with menus is a small gastronomic dictionary.

There are a few available, all pretty much the same, so the choice is up to you. The one I have is called "The A-Z of French Food, a descriptive bilingual glossary", it is available in W H Smith's in the rue de Rivoli in the 1st and most other large bookshops. This book is so good, and used so often that I have had to invest in a treadmill, so be warned! And one of the best things about it is its size. It really is small enough to slip inot your pocket or handbag. It also has information on drinks too.

Walking, and the History of Paris

One of my favourite things about Paris is the fact that it is so walkable. You are never far from a metro or bus, so you really can just keep on wandering until you tire, safe in the knowledge that a nice cup of coffee, or a seat in a bus or metro are all withing easy reach.

At first I just used to take the metro to a station, get out and get lost. But then I wanted to know a little more about some of the wonders I'd seen, so discount card in hand I took myself to W. H. Smith's.

Around and about Paris by Thirza Vallois. There are three books that cover all 20 arrondissements. She tells you about what you'll see as you walk, and also about what you can no longer see, because it happened long ago, because they've pulled it down, or whatever. These books cannot replace the usual tourist books, as they are not so big on the "main" attractions, however they more than make up for this by the detail and history they contain. They are so good that you don't even need to do the walks, just reading them at home is enjoyable.

Time out book of Paris walks is different to the above in that it is written by a group of people, some living in Paris, some not, some famous, some not. All the walks are interesting, and the maps are good.


Every step you take is chock full of history. Unlike London - the other big city I've lived in - Paris was hardly bombed at all during WWII, so it is all still there for you.

Marie Antionette by Antonia Fraser. Marie Antoinette is just not my kind of person at all, however reading this book did make me feel more sympathetic and understanding towards her. Here she was the typical airhead, totally uneducated and unprepared for her role. You cannot help but sympathise with her. And she did show courage at the end.

The Cambridge Illustrated History of France by Colin Jones. This is the best and easiest History of France I have read. It covers it all, and the photographs and illustrations are very good. If you only buy one history of France this is the one to buy. It is also very easy to look things up as the index is good. So it is useful for settling after-dinner arguments.

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford. I bought this as I love Nancy Mitford's novels. This is the biography of Louis XIV. It is a beautiful book, full of really good illustrations. I never cared much for Louis XIV before I read the book, and still don't after having read it, but I really did enjoy the book. It helps you understand France and the French so much more.

1940, the fall of France by Gen. Andre Beaufre. This is an excellent book written by someone who was there at the time. It tells a sad tale. After reading this you can understand a lot about what happened later, and even what is happening today. A great book.

Paris after the liberation: 1944-1949 by Anthony Beevor & Artemis Cooper. A whole book about just five years in the life of a city, but what a five years. The photographs are great too. As with the book above, the occupation years have left their scar on the nation.


A Tale of two cities by Charles Dickens. Set during the first revolution. Written by one of the very best novelists of all time, this book needs no more to recommend it. Like all his books, good from start to finish.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This is a huge book, and no pictures! However I've read it twice. The title is apt, it is just one miserable thing after another. At times it is a little beyond belief, however unlike The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this does not detract from a rattling good story. If you have found his other works heavy going give this a bash, it is much better.

Love in a cold Climate, Don't tell Alfred, The Blessing by Nancy Mitford. I don't know how many times I've read these books. All are set partly in Paris or France, and all are hilarious. Love in a cold climate is set just before and at the start of WWII, and is the first Nancy Mitford book I ever read. I picked it up by accident in a Japanese bookshop in the 80s, and after the first few lines describing Uncle Matthew I could not put it down. Everyone I know has a relative like uncle Matthew. I won't say who mine is as he is still very much alive.

Don't tell Alfred is set largely in the British Embassy in Paris not long after WWII, and has many of the characters from Love in a cold Climate, plus some lovely new ones.

The blessing is set around the same time. These books are so light, and easy to read that you might miss the obvious skill and knowledge with which they are written.

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