Books on French History

The Storming of the Bastille

Bibliothèque Nationale de France

This page indexes onsite bibliographic information about French history.

General Histories

The best one-volume books, plus a bonus for people wanting one book on recent events.

  1. A Concise History of France by Roger Price: Part of the Cambridge Concise Histories series, (and so linked to another book on this list), this text is a middle length run through of a fascinating but at times complicated history. The third edition has an extra chapter on very modern France.
  2. The Cambridge Illustrated History of France by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Colin Jones: This is a great one-book summary of France’s history, with a broad range and plenty of visual stimuli.
  3. The History of Modern France: From The Revolution to the Present Day by Jonathan Fenby: French history in the post-Napoleonic era is no less interesting than the time before. It is good for the European Union and precursors as well as France.

The Best Books

Want to start reading about French history, but aren’t sure where to start? We’ve broken down the best books we’ve run on French history and divided them into three lists; we’ve also paid attention to covering as much ground as possible.

Pre-Revolutionary France: Top 10
France evolved around the turn of the first millennium, but this list goes back to the decline of the Romans to fill in all the eras. Wars against England, wars over religion, and the (possible) apogee of absolutism.

The French Revolution: Top 10
Probably the turning point around which modern European history revolved, The French Revolution began in 1789, changing both France, the continent and then the world. These ten books include one of my favorite ever history books.

Post-Revolutionary France: Top 10
French history didn’t end with the defeat of Napoleon, and there’s plenty to look for in the last two hundred years if you want fascinating events and interesting characters.

Reviews and Summaries

Check out this list of product summaries, that highlight the pros and cons of some stand-out books on French history. The list provides a brief review and lists supplementary detail; many entries also link to full reviews, including the below.​

  • Citizens by Simon Schama
    This book is a standout among all history books, not just those about French history. This history of the revolution from the early days to the start of the Directory is no less than fascinating but perhaps too baroque for the younger student.​
  • The French Revolutionary Wars by Gregory Fremont-Barnes
    The French Revolutionary Wars often get folded into the Napoleonic Wars, so this book that tackles them alone. is well-appreciated.
  • The Oxford History of the French Revolution by William Doyle
    If you want to know what happened in the French Revolution, and why, read this excellent work from Doyle. It’s been through several editions, and this is the best student textbook.