Oh, Paris. Such an inspirational city certainly deserves its fair share of literature. If you find yourself daydreaming about the “city of love”, picking up a book set in Paris might be the best solution for your wanderlust. Even if you can’t physically visit France, you can still feel like you’re there! Whether you’ve been to Paris or not, the books I’ll list here are a great place to immerse yourself in everything “Parisienne”.
Moreover, I’ll be providing the 30 best books about Paris for every type of reader: non-fiction and fiction alike. Discover classic books about Paris, books about living in Paris, historical fiction about Paris, and more! No matter your preferred genre, I hope you’re able to find something here that catches your eye. If you think this list is missing any important book about Paris, please let me know in the comments.
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Table of Contents
Classic books about Paris
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Topping the list of classic novels set in Paris is this memoir by Ernest Hemingway. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recounts his experience of living in Paris as a young writer in the 1920s. You may recognize other famous writers he encounters, such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Wyndham Lewis, or F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
“Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin. The inexplicable fact is that the blinder it is, the more tenacious it is. It is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable.”
This French Gothic novel takes place in 1482 in Paris and centers around the Notre-Dame cathedral and its bellringer, Quasimodo. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was such a big hit in its time that it spurred a historic preservation movement and led to renovations at Notre Dame. You might be familiar with the much lighter Disney adaptation of this book.
The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola
“Very well, sir. A woman’s opinion, however humble she may be, is always worth listening to, if she’s got any sense…If you put yourself in my hands, I shall certainly make a decent man of you.”
Although this novel is technically the eleventh in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series, it can be read as a standalone. Discover what life was like in an 1860s department store in Paris from Denise, a saleswoman who comes to the big city to find work. Throughout the story, the Ladies’ Paradise store represents capitalism and consumerism, while Denise depicts the struggling proletariat in the city.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Known for having one of the most famous opening lines in literature, A Tale of Two Cities takes place in both Paris and London. Set right before and during the French Revolution (the book begins in 1775), it follows Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. These two men not only eerily resemble one another but also fall for the same woman. Prevalent themes that you’ll find throughout this classic include self-sacrifice, the tendency towards violence during revolutions, and the oppression of revolutionaries.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Apart from its fame as a major musical, the original novel of Les Misérables is considered to be one of the greatest works of western literature. So, if you loved the movie, why not give the book a read? Follow Jean Valjean, a convict who escapes prison, while he attempts to become a respectable member of society. You’ll also meet other characters as Valjean’s story unfolds–some in Paris and some not–beginning in 1815 and culminating in the June 1832 Rebellion.
Books about living in Paris
My Life in France by Julia Child
An entertaining and witty read about Julia Child and her years spent studying French cooking and high cuisine. While Child would come to fame as a chef later in life, she didn’t find her passion for cooking and teaching until she moved to France with her husband. This charming autobiography was also the basis for the 2009 film Julie & Julia.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
If you’re looking for a laugh, you’ll enjoy this collection of comedic essays. The second section of the book focuses on Sedaris’ move from New York to Normandy and amusing stories of trying to learn French in Paris. His quips about the French language are both insightful and hilarious.
New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement by Lindsey Tramuta
With an astute collection of places and photographs, Tramuta emphasizes an exciting movement happening in Paris while convincing the reader to visit as soon as possible. Although New Paris is considered to be a guidebook, it reads more as a narrative on what living in Paris is like today.
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart
While walking his children to school, Thad Carhart stumbles upon a storefront in Paris called Desforges Pianos. This intriguing shop–apart from being a secret hangout spot for locals–awakens Carhart’s childhood passion for playing the piano. As he becomes closer to Luc, the atelier’s owner, friendship blossoms alongside the author’s understanding of the history and art of the piano.
The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
David Lebovitz makes his dream move to Paris only to discover that life in France is quite different from what he expected. This guide is both hilarious and an enjoyable read. Plus, it includes fifty original Parisian recipes!
Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer
Time Was Soft There is Jeremy Mercer’s memoir of living and working at one of the best-known bookstores in the world: Shakespeare & Co. After leaving Canada, the journalist finds himself poor and unemployed in Paris. While out for a walk, he stops at Shakespeare & Co, purchases a book, and is invited by the staff to a legendary tea party. From there, the shop’s owner offers Mercer free room and board in exchange for his work. I won’t spoil what happens next, but it’s the perfect read for any book lover!
Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
In 1995, Adam Gopnik and his family moved from New York to Paris in an attempt to experience life as a Parisian. Paris to the Moon covers just how comedic life can be as both a parent and a resident in a new and foreign city. With sharp insight, Gopnik explains the differences between living in the United States and France, and how these lead to such contrasting cultures.
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino
Elaine Sciolino provides us with a snapshot of what life is like on the Rue des Martyrs, a street in Paris that seems to have everything. Only in Paris does one street have enough history to fill an entire book!
L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz
David Lebovitz, professional chef and writer, shares stories of ex-pat life in Paris and the highs and lows that come with making a new country home. Especially if you enjoy David Sedaris’ books, you’ll like this story as well. As a personal touch, Lebovitz also includes an original recipe at the end of most chapters.
Read More: The Most Photo Worthy Spots in Paris, France
Novels set in Paris
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is set in a posh Parisian apartment building. The cultured concierge, Renée, and a bright 12-year-old resident, Paloma, both feel as if no one understands them and, therefore, both hide their talents from the world. That is until they meet a new tenant in the building, Kakuro Ozu.
Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
If you’re looking for an irresistible Paris love story, this is it! Paris for One and Other Stories is comprised of nine short stories, with the first and most enthralling being “Paris for One”. Nell and her boyfriend, Pete, are geared up for a romantic getaway to Paris–except Pete never shows up. Greeted with this unexpected opportunity, Nells decides to travel to Paris on her own. This is a delightful story about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and the thrills and challenges that ensue. The other stories included in this book are equally as charming, although shorter in length.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Monsieur Perdu, the owner of a floating bookstore on the Seine, has a gift. He’s able to infer precisely what book a person should read based on what they’re going through in life. However, there is one thing he lacks: the ability to fix his broken heart. When the love of his life disappeared years ago, she left behind a letter. Only years later is he tempted to open it, propelling him on a quest of self-discovery and healing.
Best books about Paris history
Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne
Seven Ages of Paris shares an in-depth account of Paris from before 1000 A.D. up to 1968. Some of the interesting focuses of this book include how the city has developed throughout the centuries and how the rulers of these time periods always attempted to shape Paris to reflect themselves.
How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean
This lively read centers around the transformation of Paris from an urban disaster to a strategically planned metropolis. After reading this historical account, you’ll have a better understanding of how Paris became the spectacle it is today.
Historical fiction about Paris
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
An enthralling portrait of women during World War II, this novel brings two very different sisters together in the struggle to survive during wartime. Although much of the story takes place in the fictional village of “Carriveau”, it also covers the beginning of the Nazi occupation in Paris. The Nightingale was such a hit that it’s currently being made into a feature film starring sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Set in Paris in the 1930s, this novel follows Hugo, a 12-year-old orphan, clock keeper, and thief. Although alone, he manages to get through each day with the hope that he’ll be able to unlock a secret message that his father left for him. Part novel, part graphic novel, this book weaves a magical tale. Moreover, it was adapted into the critically-acclaimed 2011 film Hugo.
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
In 1937, Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish student, makes his way from Budapest to Paris to attend the Ecoles Speciale. Prior to leaving home, he was asked to deliver a mysterious letter to one “C. Morgenstern”. The first half of the novel covers his time in Paris as Europe is on the brink of war, while the second half follows his return to Hungary and the horrors that Andras and his brothers experience during the Holocaust. While parts of the book can be hard to read, Orringer tells an eye-opening tale of what life was like for Hungarian Jews during WWII.
The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel
This novel is told from the perspective of Ruby, an American woman, as well as the RAF pilot (Thomas) and Jewish teenager (Charlotte) she’s hiding in her apartment. During the Nazi occupation in Paris, when no one was safe, Ruby risks her life and receives a new family in return.
Paris: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd
Paris: The Novel takes readers back and forth through time to uncover the dazzling city of Paris. Rutherford does a fantastic job of tying essential moments in French history together through the 4-5 French families that we follow throughout the book. Due to the time hops, it can be challenging to follow at times; however, this novel is sincerely worth the read.
Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran
Everyone has heard of Madame Tussaud and her famous wax museums, but are you familiar with the story behind the woman? Taking place during the years of the French Revolution, readers will learn how Marie Tussaud’s skill at wax modeling saved her life during the Reign of Terror.
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
Set in Paris in 1940 as the Nazi occupation begins, Suite Française tells the story of city locals as they deal with the aftermath of this invasion. The author is able to shed incredible insight on this situation as it was one she was actually experiencing. In fact, Némirovsky was a successful writer living in Paris during WWII until she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where she was later killed. This manuscript only managed to survive as it was hidden in a suitcase that her daughters carried with them into hiding.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife tells the story of Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley, as they experience life in Paris among the “Lost Generation”. During a time of ultimate debauchery in Paris, the married couple grapple with their relationship–Hemingway struggles to find his place as a writer, and Hadley finds it challenging to play the part of muse to a genius.
All The Light We Cannot See by Antony Doerr
Although this story doesn’t fully take place in Paris, I still highly recommend it. All The Light We Cannot See follows a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German boy, Werner, as their lives intersect during Nazi occupation. The beautiful imagery and description of the characters’ lives will keep your attention to the last page.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
This dual-timeline novel centers around Sarah, a 10-year-old girl in Paris in 1942, and Julia, an American journalist living in the city in 2002. The story of Sarah’s past and her horrific experiences during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup ultimately bring these two women together to understand the silence surrounding this dark day.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Lilac Girls tells the story of three women, whose lives collide during the events of World War II at Ravensbrück, a concentration camp. Set during the timeframe of 1939-1959, this book transports readers to Germany, Poland, New York City, and Paris to tell a story of redemption and beauty.
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The first version of this article was published in July 2019 but has since been updated.
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You're most welcome, Leah. Glad to help! I know, it's easy to turn numbers around, isn't it? Have a lovely evening!