The French revolution was an important historical event in European and French history that many historians and history buffs have tried to explain. Here are some of the best French revolution books for anyone curious about this tumultuous time in French history that brought down the French monarchy and sent shockwaves across the world.
Besides the storming of the Bastille, the execution of the King and his wife Marie Antoinette by guillotine, and what you’ve seen in the movies, how much do most of us know about this seismic event that radically transformed France, ended French aristocracy, and made Napoleon Bonaparte the emperor of France?
What do you want to know about the French Revolution?
In a nutshell, the decade-long revolution which started in 1789 and ended in 1799 was caused by widespread discontent with the French monarchy and the poor economic policies of King Louis XVI (the king during the french revolution).
Inspired by the American Revolution (another bourgeoisie revolution), France saw that America had created an independent and United country where the people had power instead of a king.
Those are the broad strokes but with 10 years of revolutionary history to learn about, there’s a lot more information to wade through.
The good thing is, there are a plethora of books written about the French revolution, but which one is right for you?
The best French Revolution books are the ones that answer your burning questions in a format that you can digest.
The Best French Revolution Book Should Cover some or all of the major historical events (that interest you).
Timeline of the French Revolution major events
Here’s a brief outline of some of the Major Historical Events of the French revolution. Not all books cover all the topics, so when searching for a book, make sure it covers the areas you’re interested in.
- The royal treasury is empty, France is broke: August 8th, 1788
- Revolution Begins, Call of the Estate Generals: May 5, 1789
- Members of the third estate take the Tennis Court Oath demanding certain rights from the king: June 20, 1789
- The revolution begins with the storming of the Bastille: July 14, 1789
- Abolition of Feudalism: August 4, 1789
- Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted: August 26, 1789
- A large group of market women march from Paris to Versailles demanding lower bread prices: October 5, 1789
- Civil Constitution of the clergy: July 12, 1790
- King Louis XVI and the Royal family attempts to flee Paris to Varennes but are captured: June 20, 1791
- Champ de mars massacre: July 17, 1791
- The first invasion of the Tuileries: June 20, 1792
- The overthrow of the monarchy: August 10, 1792
- The execution of King Louis XVI by guillotine: JANUARY 21, 1793
- 6 month Reign of Terror, 16k people were executed by guillotine due to Jacobin and Girondin conflict: September 5, 1793- July 28, 1794
- Execution of Queen Marie Antoinette by guillotine: October 16, 1793
- The coup of 18th Brumaire: November 9-10, 1799
- The French Revolutionary Wars: series of military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802.
- Leader of Jacobins, Robespierre arrested and executed: July 26 -28, 1794
- “La Marseillaise” is adopted as the national anthem of France: July 14, 1795
- End of the revolution, Napoleon overthrows the directory and becomes the leader of France: November 9th, 1799
- The Aftermath of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: May 18, 1803 – November 20, 1815.
- Louis XVIII was placed on the French throne, Napoleon exiled: July 8th, 1815
You mighe be interested in reading: Bastille Day: France’s Independence Day vs. American Fourth Of July Explained
Best Books on the French Revolution
Whether you want a narrative of the French Revolution, a comprehensive historical interpretation, or something along the lines of historical fiction, here are some of the best books about the French revolution for just about anyone’s reading style.
I’ve also included some children’s books on this list.
**Disclaimer: Although I haven’t read all these books about the French revolution. I waded through a sea of book reviews and comments from people who read them and picked the best or most popular ones based on my findings.
An extremely well-written book, and a real page-turner. This is a great introduction to the life & times of Napoleon Bonaparte, exhaustively research. Roberts, the author is the first biographer to make full use of the 33,000 letters Napoleon wrote.
For those of you looking for further insight into the Reign of Terror. It focuses mainly on the year when the Committee of Public Safety ruled and examines their actions and reasons behind them. It also delves into the lives of the 12 men who ran this committee and discusses the rise and fall of the committee of public safety extensively, leading up to the execution of Robespierre.
French Revolution Books For kids or young children
For grades 3-7 and ages 8 to 12 years old. 112 pages.
Often credited with the famous quote "Let them eat cake," this is an interesting mini-biography about Marie Antoinette, the Austrian teenager who married the King of France only to be executed by guillotine during the French revolution. She was also the last queen of France.
For grades 3 - 7, ages 8 to 12 years old.
A fascinating biography about Napoleon Bonaparte. Born in Corsica, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, his family was more Italian than French. This is a quick well-written book full of facts about how this boy found his life calling after graduating from military school in France and went on to become the emperor of France after the French Revolution.
Beginners or introduction to the French revolution: easy reads
An excellent and vivid historical description of the life and times of King Louis XVI of France. This biography focuses primarily on the parts of his life that help the reader understand this private, unassuming man who never wanted to be king while learning more about the French revolution.
This is a narrative history of the French Revolution, from the Estates-General's meeting at Versailles to the coup d'état of Brumaire, which brought Napoleon to power.
The author presents complex ideas in a readable format with plenty of historical background and detail without sacrificing clarity or narrative flow: perfect for the general reader unfamiliar with Revolution history.
All-Encompassing Books about the French revolution
First published in 1989, this 500+ page book usually makes it to everyone's list of best French revolution books. It's an authoritative and comprehensive one-volume history from the accession of Louis XVI in 1774, through revolution, terror, and counter-revolution to the final triumph of Napoleon in 1802.
Extremely well-written and documented, an all-encompassing book about the French revolution. Jeremy Popkin takes nearly half a century of research and teachings and somehow turns dry history into a page-turner. It's a reflective, fascinating study that takes its time with each major event.
Written by EDMUND BURKE (1729-1797) Considered one of his most important works, this is an informative book by one of history’s great political thinkers. However, styles of writing and speaking have changed in the two and a half centuries since Burke wrote this book. You need to be willing to plow through flowery prose to find the essential truths about the French revolution buried within.
If you need a deeper understanding of the root causes that led to the french revolution, this book by Tocqueville is for you. First published in 1941, it's remained in print ever since and is a crucial part of the study of the French Revolution to this day. His book explores 18th-century society and its political system. He provides an in-depth explanation of the causes of the revolution, how it was inevitable, discusses the political theories and explores the themes of democracy, social inequality, and freedom and how they're connected.
Historical Fiction Books About The French Revolution
I’m a big historical fiction fan and Phillipa Gregory fan also. Here are some historical fiction books about the French revolution that’ll make you feel as if you’re actually there.
Historical fiction: Most of the world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax sculpture artist. Beginning in 1788, this is her amazing story from the beginning of the revolution to the Reign of Terror, where an estimated 40,000 people, most of whom were guilty of nothing, were put to death by the guillotine. Madame Tussaud brings us into the world whose talent for wax modelling saved her life. More or less forced to create wax images of the severed heads in the guillotine basket, she preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.
Written in 1859, this is Charles Dickens's second historical novel. Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, French Doctor Manette is imprisoned in the Bastille in Paris for 18 years and released to live in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
Odd and unusual
Ross, the author, brings the streets of Paris to life. He takes you to the actual buildings, places, and sites, making it possible to stand in the very spots where the French Revolution's tragic events took place. All the while learning about actual events.
Whenever someone implies that history is boring, the author likes to mention Napoleon's penis. Apparently, it was sliced off during the autopsy and stolen by his sleazy physician. A urologist living in New Jersey purchased the modern-day relic for $3,000 and stored it under his bed until he died 30 years later. His daughter inherited Napoleon's penis and had offers of at least $100,000, YUCK!. This book details this and other scandalous private lives and intimate details of famous people in history.
Tip on finding the best book for you
Before purchasing any book, if possible, read a snippet of the book first to see if you like the writing style. This is a feature that many online booksellers allow you to do before purchasing a book. I’ve found a few books that I thought looked interesting to me but then when I read the first chapter, I found that the writing style was too dry, or written in a style that was too flowery for my taste.
Another tip is to listen to the sample chapter of an
Good luck and happy reading.