Rick Steves: Paris - recommended Reading and Viewing

Rick Steves: Paris stories – books and films about Paris

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To get the feel for Paris past and present, check out a few of these books and films.

Books about Paris: Non-Fiction
For a better understanding of French politics, culture, and people, check out Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong (Nadeau and Barlow), Culture Shock: France (Taylor), French or Foe, and Savoir-Flair! (both by Polly Platt). The Course of French History (Goubert) provides a basic summary of French history, while The Cambridge Illustrated History of France (Jones) comes with coffee-table-book pictures and illustrations.

A Moveable Feast is Ernest Hemingway's classic memoir of 1920s Paris. In I'll Always Have Paris, Art Buchwald meets Hemingway, among others. Suite Francaise (Nemirovsky) is by a Jewish writer who eloquently describes how life changed after the Nazi occupation. Is Paris Burning? (Collins) brings the liberation of Paris to life on its pages. Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation is a fascinating read (Glass) Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light (Stovall) explains why African-Americans found Paris so freeing in the first half of the 20th century.

Paris: Recommended Reading and ViewingParis to the Moon is Adam Gopnik's charming collection of stories about life as a New Yorker in Paris (his literary anthology, Americans in Paris, is also recommended). A Corner in the Marais (Karmel) is a detailed account of one Parisian neighborhood, while Diane Johnson's Into a Paris Quartier tells tales about the sixth arrondissement. The memoir The Piano Shop on the Left Bank (Carhart) captures Paris' sentimental appeal. Almost French (Turnbull) is a funny take on living as a Parisian native. Reading The Flaneur is like wandering with author Edmund White through his favorite finds. The Authentic Bistros of Paris (Thomazeau), a pretty picture book, will have you longing for a croque monsieur. A mix of writers explore Parisian culture in Travelers Tales: Paris (O'Reilly).

Books about Paris: Fiction
Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities shows the pathos and horror of the French Revolution, as does Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (his Hunchback of Notre-Dame is also set in Paris).

The anthology A Place in the World Called Paris (Barclay) includes essays by literary greats from Truman Capote to Franz Kafka. The characters in Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light storm the Bastille. While it relies on some stereotypes, A Year in the Merde (Clarke) is a lighthearted look at life as a faux Parisian.

Flickr: webjoy Paris: Recommended Reading and ViewingGeorge Simenon was a Belgian, but he often set his Inspector Maigret detective series in Paris; The Hotel Majestic is particularly good. Mystery fans should also consider Murder in Montparnasse (Engel), Murder in the Marais (Black), and Sandman (Janes), set in Vichy-era Paris.

Alan Furst writes gripping novels about WWII espionage that put you right into the action focus in Paris.

For children, there's the beloved Madeline series (Bemelmans), where 'in an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines'. Kids of all ages enjoy the whimsical and colorful impressions of the city in Miroslav Sasek's classic picture-book This is Paris.

Films about Paris

Children of Paradise (1946), a melancholy romance, was filmed during the Nazi occupation of Paris. In The Red Balloon (1956), a small boy chases his balloon through the city streets, symbolizing that beauty can be found even in the simplest toy. The 400 Blows (1959) and Jules and Jim (1962) are both classics of French New Wave cinema by director François Truffaut. Charade (1963) combines a romance between Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant with a crime story.

Blue/White/Red (1990s) is a stylish trilogy of films, each featuring a famous French actress as the lead (Blue, with Juliette Binoche, is the best of the three). Ridicule (1996), set in the opulent court of Louis XVI, shows that survival then depended on a quick wit and an acid tongue. In the crime caper Ronin (1998), Robert De Niro and Jean Reno lead a car chase through the city.

Moulin Rouge! (2001) is a fanciful musical set in the legendary Montmartre night club. Amélie (2001), a crowd-pleasing romance, features a charming young waitress searching for love and the meaning of life. No Disney flick, The Triplets of Belleville (2003) is a creepy, surreal, yet warm-hearted animated film that begins in a very Parisian fictional city.

For over-the-top, schlocky fun, watch The Phantom of the Opera (2004), about a disfigured musical genius hiding in the Paris Opera House, and The Da Vinci Code (2006), a blockbuster murder mystery partly filmed inside the Louvre.

If you'll be heading to Versailles, try Marie Antoinette (2006), a delicate little bonbon of a film about the misunderstood queen. 

Rick Steves / Expatica
Rick StevesRick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at rick@ricksteves.com. 
 Photo credit: Rick Steves (photo 1), webjoy (photo 2).
Readers' recommendations
  • Woody Allen's recent film Midnight in Paris brings 1920s Paris to lilfe. 
  • Documentary film Paris Was A Woman shows many artistic women of the 1920s and 30s who were Parisian or, lilke their male compatriots, came to live there.
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1 Comment To This Article

  • Dvora posted:

    on 21st August 2012, 12:44:43 - Reply

    I'm surprised not to see Woody Allen's recent film "Midnight in Paris" which does an amusing job of bring 1920s Paris to lilfe. There is also an excellent documeentary film called "Paris Was A Woman" that deals with many of the artistic women of the 1920s and 30s who were Parisian or who, lilke their male compatriots, came to live there.