Paris: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves, Steve Smith, and Gene Openshaw

To learn more about Paris past and present, check out a few of these books and films.

Books: Nonfiction

  • A to Z of French Food, a French to English Dictionary of Culinary Terms (G. de Temmerman, 1995). This is the most complete (and priciest) menu reader around — and it's beloved by foodies.
  • Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris (Sarah Turnbull, 2003). Turnbull takes an amusing look at adopting a famously frosty city.
  • Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation (Charles Glass, 2009). Using stories from American expatriates, Glass transports readers back to Nazi-occupied Paris in the early 1940s.
  • The Cambridge Illustrated History of France (Colin Jones, 1995). The political, social, and cultural history of France is explored in detail, accompanied by coffee-table-book pictures and illustrations.
  • A Corner in the Marais (Alex Karmel, 1998). After buying a flat in the Marais, the author digs into the history of the building — and the evolution of one of Paris' great neighborhoods.
  • The Course of French History (Pierre Goubert, 1988). Goubert provides a basic summary of French history.
  • Culture Shock! France (Sally Adamson Taylor, 1991). Demystify French culture — and the French people — with this good introduction.
  • The Flâneur (Edmund White, 2001). Reading this book is like wandering the streets of Paris with the author, who lived here for 16 years.
  • French or Foe? (Polly Platt, 1994). This best seller, along with its follow-up, Savoir-Flair!, is an essential aid for interacting with the French and navigating the intricacies of their culture.
  • From Here, You Can't See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant (Michael S. Sanders, 2002). Foodies may enjoy this book, about a small-town restaurant where foie gras is always on the menu.
  • How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City (Joan DeJean, 2014). DeJean describes how Paris emerged from the Dark Ages to become the world's grandest city.
  • I'll Always Have Paris (Art Buchwald, 1996). The American humorist recounts life as a Paris correspondent during the 1940s and 1950s.
  • Into a Paris Quartier: Reine Margot's Chapel and Other Haunts of St. Germain (Diane Johnson, 2005). The author acquaints readers with the sixth arrondissement by recounting her strolls through this iconic neighborhood.
  • Is Paris Burning? (Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, 1964). Set in the last days of the Nazi occupation, this is the story of the French resistance and how a German general disobeyed Hitler's order to destroy Paris.
  • La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life (Elaine Sciolino, 2011). Sciolino, former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, gives travelers a fun, insightful, and tantalizing peek into how seduction is used in all aspects of French life — from small villages to the halls of national government.
  • A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemingway, 1964). Paris in the 1920s is recalled by Hemingway.
  • My Life in France (Julia Child, 1996). The inimitably zesty chef recounts her early days in Paris.
  • Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light (Tyler Stovall, 1996). Stovall explains why African Americans found Paris so freeing in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Paris to the Moon (Adam Gopnik, 2000). This collection of essays and journal entries explores the idiosyncrasies of life in France from a New Yorker's point of view. His literary anthology, Americans in Paris, is also recommended.
  • A Place in the World Called Paris (Steven Barclay, 1994). This anthology includes essays by literary greats from Truman Capote to Franz Kafka.
  • Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong (Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, 2003). This is a must-read for anyone serious about understanding French culture, contemporary politics, and what makes the French tick.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris (David Lebovitz, 2009). Funny and articulate, pastry chef and cookbook author Lebovitz delivers oodles of food suggestions for travelers in Paris.
  • Travelers Tales: Paris and Travelers' Tales: France (edited by James O'Reilly, Larry Habegger, and Sean O'Reilly, 2002). Notable writers explore Parisian and French culture.

Books: Fiction

  • City of Darkness, City of Light (Marge Piercy, 1996). Three French women play pivotal roles behind the scenes during the French Revolution.
  • The Hotel Majestic (Georges Simenon, 1942). Ernest Hemingway was a fan of Simenon, a Belgian writer who often set his Inspector Maigret detective books, including this one, in Paris.
  • Le Divorce (Diane Johnson, 1997). An American woman visits her stepsister and husband in Paris during a time of marital crisis (also a 2003 movie with Kate Hudson).
  • Murder in the Marais (Cara Black, 1999). Set in Vichy-era Paris, private investigator Aimée Leduc finds herself at the center of a murder mystery.
  • Night Soldiers (Alan Furst, 1988). The first of Furst's gripping WWII espionage novels puts you right into the action in Paris.
  • Suite Française (Irène Némirovsky, 2004). Némirovsky, a Russian Jew who was living in France and died at Auschwitz in 1942, plunges readers into the chaotic WWII evacuation of Paris, as well as daily life in a small rural town during the ensuing German occupation.
  • A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens, 1859). Dickens' gripping tale shows the pathos and horror of the French Revolution.
  • A Year in the Merde (Stephen Clarke, 2004). Englishman Paul West takes on life as a faux Parisian in this lighthearted novel that relies on some stereotypes.

Movies

  • Amélie (2001). A charming young waitress searches for love in Paris.
  • Before Sunset (2004). Nine years after meeting on a train to Vienna, Jesse and Celine (played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) are reunited in Paris.
  • Breathless (1960). A Parisian petty thief (Jean-Paul Belmondo) persuades an American student (Jean Seberg) to run away with him in this groundbreaking classic of French New Wave cinema.
  • Children of Paradise (1945). This melancholy romance was filmed during the Nazi occupation of Paris.
  • Dangerous Liaisons (1988). This inside look at sex, intrigue, and revenge takes place in the last days of the French aristocracy in pre-Revolutionary Paris.
  • The Intouchables (2011). A quadriplegic Parisian aristocrat hires a personal caregiver from the projects, and an unusual and touching friendship ensues.
  • Jules and Jim (1962). François Truffaut, the master of the French New Wave, explores a decades-long love triangle in this classic.
  • La Vie en Rose (2007). Marion Cotillard won the Best Actress Oscar for this film about the glamorous and turbulent life of singer Edith Piaf, who famously regretted nothing (many scenes were shot in Paris).
  • Les Misérables (2012). A Frenchman trying to escape his criminal past becomes wrapped up in Revolutionary intrigues (based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel).
  • Marie Antoinette (2006). Kirsten Dunst stars as the infamous French queen (with a Californian accent) at Versailles in this delicate little bonbon of a film about the misunderstood queen.
  • Midnight in Paris (2011). Woody Allen's sharp comedy shifts between today's Paris and the 1920s mecca of Picasso, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald.
  • Moulin Rouge! (2001). Baz Luhrmann's fanciful musical is set in the legendary Montmartre night club.
  • Ridicule (1996). A nobleman navigates the opulent court of Louis XVI on his wits alone.
  • Ronin (1998). Robert De Niro stars in this crime caper, which includes a car chase through Paris and scenes filmed in Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Arles.
  • Three Colors trilogy (1990s). Krzysztof Kieślowski's stylish trilogy (Blue, White, and Red) is based on France's national motto — "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." Each features a famous French actress as the lead (Blue, with Juliette Binoche, is the best).
  • The Triplets of Belleville (2003). This surreal-yet-heartwarming animated film begins in a very Parisian fictional city.

Steve Smith and Gene Openshaw are the co-authors of the Rick Steves Paris guidebook.