Ah, Paris–a city that has long captivated the hearts and minds of those enchanted by its timeless allure. Having traversed its cobbled streets and nestled into the corners of its charming cafés, I can attest to this city’s profound impact on the soul.
In my literary journey through the “city of love,” I discovered that the pages of a well-crafted book can transport you to the very essence of Paris, even if you’re miles away. With this in mind, I’ve curated the 20 best books about Paris for every type of reader: non-fiction and fiction alike.
Discover classic books about Paris, historical fiction set in 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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Books to read before visiting Paris
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Nightingale unfolds the gripping story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, during World War II. As the Nazis invade France, Vianne faces impossible choices to protect her family, while Isabelle, a rebellious young woman, joins the Resistance, risking her life to save others.
The novel captures their divergent paths and sacrifices against the backdrop of wartime challenges in both a fictional village and the Nazi-occupied Paris.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities, renowned for its iconic opening line, unfolds in Paris and London just before and during the French Revolution (starting in 1775). The narrative revolves around Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, strikingly similar men who love the same woman.
Key themes in this classic include self-sacrifice, revolutionary violence, and the oppression revolutionaries faced.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Apart from its fame as a major musical, the original novel of Les Misérables is a renowned masterpiece in Western literature. If you enjoyed the movie, consider reading the book and follow the journey of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict striving for respectability.
The narrative introduces various characters in and outside Paris, spanning from 1815 to the June 1832 Rebellion.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
If you’re looking for a laugh, you’ll enjoy this collection of comedic essays. The book’s second section 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.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Lilac Girls is a powerful debut novel inspired by a real World War II heroine. Meet New York socialite Caroline Ferriday, Polish teenager Kasia Kuzmerick, and ambitious German doctor Herta Oberheuser as their lives intersect, particularly at the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
The novel explores themes of love, redemption, and the quest for justice across continents, highlighting the indomitable spirit of its unsung women.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
In The Paris Wife, the quiet Hadley Richardson’s life takes a transformative turn when she meets and marries the charismatic Ernest Hemingway. As the golden couple of the “Lost Generation” in Jazz Age Paris, we explore their love, fast-paced lifestyle, and the eventual unraveling of their marriage.
McLain skillfully captures the complex dynamics of love, torn loyalty, and Hadley’s profound impact on Hemingway’s life and work.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Sarah’s Key is set in Paris during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup in 1942 and its 2002 anniversary. The novel interweaves the story of ten-year-old Sarah, who locks her brother away during the tragic event, with that of American journalist Julia Jarmond.
De Rosnay’s work skillfully explores France under occupation, uncovering taboos and denials surrounding a dark episode in its history.
All The Light We Cannot See by Antony Doerr
All The Light We Cannot See is a beautifully crafted novel set during World War II. The story revolves around Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner Pfennig, an orphan from Germany, whose lives intersect against the backdrop of the war.
Doerr skillfully weaves their narratives, exploring their struggles and efforts to be good to each other amidst the devastation, creating a stunning and award-winning portrayal of resilience and humanity during wartime.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
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.
The novel, deemed a key text in French literature, has seen numerous adaptations across various media.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
In the heart of Paris, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a poignant and humorous novel. The story follows Renée, a cultured concierge hiding her intellect, and Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius concealing her talents.
Their lives take a turn when a perceptive Japanese man named Ozu arrives, unveiling their hidden qualities and creating a touching narrative that exalts the triumphs of the unassuming.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Topping the list of classic novels set in Paris is this memoir by Ernest Hemingway. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recounts his experience 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 Paris Library is a compelling historical novel set in 1939 Paris and 1983 Montana, weaving the lives of Odile Souchet and teenager Lily. Amidst the challenges of World War II and betrayal, the story explores the enduring power of literature, friendship, and family.
The narrative reveals a connection between Odile’s past and Lily’s present, highlighting the extraordinary heroism found in unexpected places.
My Life in France by Julia Child
This book is 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.
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
Set in Paris under Nazi occupation in 1940, Suite Française captures the challenges faced by city residents in the aftermath of the invasion. The author, Irène Némirovsky, a successful writer in Paris during WWII, was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where she perished.
The surviving manuscript was hidden in a suitcase carried by her daughters into hiding.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Monsieur Perdu, a floating bookstore owner on the Seine, has the unique ability to recommend the perfect book for someone based on their life situation. Despite this gift, he struggles with his own broken heart from the disappearance of the love of his life.
Years later, he is tempted to open a letter she left behind, setting him on a journey of self-discovery and healing.
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 sometimes; however, this novel is sincerely worth the read.
The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
David Lebovitz makes his dream move to Paris only to discover that life in France differs from what he expected. This guide is both hilarious and an enjoyable read. Plus, it includes fifty original Parisian recipes!
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 by Elaine Sciolino
In The Only Street in Paris, Elaine Sciolino, former Paris Bureau Chief of the New York Times, offers a captivating tour of her favorite Parisian street, the Rue des Martyrs.
Celebrating its rich history and vibrant lives, Sciolino paints a vivid portrait of the neighborhood’s charm, revealing its historical significance and introducing readers to diverse residents, making the book an homage to the pleasures of Parisian living.
How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean
How Paris Became Paris explores the transformation of Paris from the seventeenth century, establishing the model for its urban space and shaping it into the modern and iconic city we know today.
DeJean argues that this century of planned development, including removing fortifications and creating boulevards and public parks, made Paris the first great walking city in Europe, revolutionizing the concept of urban life and establishing its modern identity.
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The first version of this article was published in July 2019 but has since been updated.