As a lifelong lover of French history and culture, I thought it would be helpful for me to compile a list of the best books I have read in the original French. Now obviously the Francophone world extends far outside the regions of France to the Americas, Africa, and throughout Europe. This list will be focusing on France itself as it is the country I have lived abroad in and am the most familiar with. If you have any books from Haiti, Quebec, Switzerland, Senegal or other Francophone parts of the world please send me their names and I'd love to read them!
Ahhh that lovely thick book they based a musical off of! We all have enjoyed singing "One Day More" or "On My Own" around the streets. Now the book may seem intimidating but it is worth it. I will forgive you if you skip the Waterloo ramble, but the story itself is not to be missed. Les Misérables is full of trials, redemption, grace and bitterness. This book captures both the suffering of the people and the glory of justice. The characters are richly developed and read as people we can easily identify in our every day lives. I highly recommend reading this in the original French!
Notre Dame De Paris
Before singing "Out There" or "Hellfire" wouldn't you want to read the masterpiece those songs came from? Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame is a beautiful animation, and the book is even more powerful. I love both of these stories on their own accounts, and Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris is as magnificent as the cathedral itself!
Voltaire's satire and humor about every day life and people are best captured in the original French!
Moliere's plays and stories are not only comical, they speak at great lengths as to our society and its flaws. I strongly recommend these also for French humor.
The Social Contract
Rousseau's works are truly timeless! From the Social Contract to Political Economy, Rousseau poses wonderful solutions to problems that the world still faces today. His quotes can easily be uttered at your local hipster coffeehouse as well. Much of Rousseau is best read in the original French.
Spirit of Laws
Perplexed at the lack of checks and balances in governments today? Montesquieu has somethings to say to you my friends! His works not only have wit and style, they touch on important hot topics of culture and government, as well as usurpation of power!
His works are also very easy to read (as is Rousseau!)
A Cinq Heures Nous Serons Tous Morts
For anybody interested in Les Miserables- this action packed pamphlet is the true account of the June Rebellion. It is short and full of action in every page. It was written by Charles Jeanne, one of the leaders of the June Rebellion, whom in the midst of great adversity stood his ground for liberty.
Trust me- you will enjoy every word.
Count of Monte Cristo
Dumas is a wonderful author! and this is an honorary mention to another amazing Francophone classic :)
Now of course, no list would be complete without me saying if there is a special period of French history or culture that is interesting to you- read the sources in the primary French! I have read French Revolutionaries and their pamphlets in the original French, and it was helpful to see them without the bias of an 1790s English translator. If you are interested in the Middle Ages, pick up some French Medieval texts. The French Resistance? pick up first hand accounts in French!
I have merely captured what I have found to be the most helpful for understanding French culture and our world today. This list has the highlights and is incomplete but forever growing.
I hope you enjoy these books my dear reader, and I will see you next time!