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Bill Thayer's List of Books for France

Bill Thayer

Thanks to Bill Thayer (with his great web site about Italy) for these wonderful recommendations.

Here's my list of better books not already mentioned, all types mixed in together, but in descending order, best first, with my approximate grade:


The Shell Guide to France, Edward Young, ed., Michael Joseph, London, 1979; my edition: paperback, 1983.
Relatively compact, covers the whole country as well as can possibly be done in one volume. Very intelligently written, and gives a remarkably accurate feel for places, to judge from the places I know. This is what I plan trips from.

Guides bleus (not to be confused with the Blue Guides, an English series, although they are historically related), Hachette, Paris
The older editions (small, square, fine sans-serif type) are superb, extremely detailed coverage of all of France. The newer editions (larger, rectangular, slightly larger serif type) have slightly less good information, but are easier on the eye and present the information more digestibly.

Guide littéraire de la France, Raymonde Bonnefous et al., 1964
A sort of appendix to the Guides bleus collection is this book which is a very detailed coverage, by some of France's foremost literary experts, of the entire country as it relates to authors and their works: Proust lived here, Villon was probably executed here, Molière's first play was performed here, Diderot died here, etc.


A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne, my copy, with introduction by Virginia Woolf, Oxford University Press, 1928

A Little Tour in France by Henry James
Indispensable in any edition, by one of the great masters of English prose. My two copies:
1. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1983, ISBN 1-55584-129-5,
2. a small coffee-table edition, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, New York, 1987, ISBN 1-55584-129-5, illustrated exclusively with engravings and paintings (Corot's etc.)

La Nuit des temps, colln., Zodiaque, 1978
several dozen volumes covering the Romanesque art of all the provinces of France; for example:
Marcel Durliat and Victor Allègre
Pyrénées romanes


Travels through France and Italy by Tobias Smollett
I own no copy; the Italian section, but not the French, is online on my site; link there to a straight-text version of the whole thing online at Gutenberg.

The Vineyards of France by Don Philpott, Moorland Publishing Co Ltd, Ashbourne (Derbys.), England, my copy: paperback, The Globe Pequot Press, Chester, CT, 1987, ISBN 0-87106-687-4
Wine, maps, tourism, history. A rather thick book.

Philips Travel Guides: various authors, colln., George Philip, London
Truly magnificent photography, intelligent text. Does not cover the whole country.


Connaissance du Vieux-Paris, 3 vols. by J. Hillairet, Editions Gonthier, Paris, 1951, (based on Evocation du Vieux-Paris, Editions de Minuit which I have not seen)
The arcane history of the city of Paris, in fascinating detail.

Les travaux des mois: various authors, colln., Zodiaque, 1978
several dozen picture-books of Romanesque and Gothic art, often by theme (e.g.: Cloîtres romans de France, Le Mont-Saint-Michel, Itinéraires romans en Normandie, Chemins de Compostelle, etc.)

The Food Lover's Guide to France by Patricia Wells, Workman Publishing, New York 1987, ISBN 0-89480-306-9
Restaurants, food stores, cooking stores; recipes, stories. Lots of out-of-the-way places all over France.


Monuments méconnus by Henri-Paul Eydoux, Provence (part of a series, I believe), Librairie Académique Perrin, 1978, ISBN 2-262-00100-6
Esoteric Provence.

France: A Phaidon Cultural Guide, (English translation of German original Knaurs Kulturführer in Fabre, Frankreich), original English editor: Phaidon Press Limited, Oxford, 1985, my copy: Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, ISBN 0-13-330580-5
The Prentice-Hall binding, though sewn, is a catastrophe; and the colors are iffy. The selection of sights and the quality of the text are quite good, though.

Blue Guides (the Ernst Benn/W.W. Norton series by that name, not to be confused with the French series, although they are historically related) cover much of the country, if not as well as it could.

Discovering the Villages of France by Michael Busselle, Arcade Publishing (Little, Brown and Company), New York, ISBN 55970--173-0
Midsize coffee-table book but good coverage of the country, good text. Photos are splendid.


Hidden France and French Leave by Richard Binns, Ticknor & Fields, New Haven CT and New York, Hidden France: ISBN 0-89919-157-6, French Leave: (my copy: 3d revised edition), ISBN 0-89919-196-7
Small books about small hotels. Dated but interesting. The books have something of a cult following.

Gascony and the Pyrenees by John East, Johnson, London, 1970, ISBN 0-85307-087-3, (part of a series, books by various authors)

Other Thoughts

In addition to that list, 2 books not about France but which I find indispensable:

A+ - The Art of Eating by M[ary] F[rances] K[ennedy] Fisher, Collier Books (Macmillan Publishing Company, New York), 1990, my copy: paperback, ISBN 0-02-032220-8
Much of the book wanders in and out of France, with memorable atmospheric vignettes of French life - and restaurants.

A+ - An Outline of European Architecture by Nikolaus Pevsner, first published 1943, my copy: Penguin 1982
Pevsner is one of the great authorities on Western architecture, his magnum opus as far as I know is an umpteen-volume series on London. Get inside the skin of the great buildings of France: Amiens, Fontainebleau, Ronchamp, etc.

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