Get ready to load up your nightstand because this list of books set in Paris are full of historical intrigue, love affairs, loss, murder, bookstores and fish out of water. Paris itself is the main character in so many of these books that you’ll find yourself falling in love with her. So, dig in, start reading and lose yourself in Paris.
“The whole of Paris is a vast university of art, literature and music…”James Thurber
Digging Into the 32 Best Books Set in Paris
I am an unapologetic book nerd and recovering bookseller who loves nothing more than helping people find a new book to devour. So, you can trust me to suggest some interesting reads.
This is a pretty epic reading list of books about Paris. It includes selections for novels set in Paris, books set during WWII, historical novels, books set in bookstores, mysteries, memoirs and histories of the City of Light. So, if you have a particular genre that you prefer, skip down to that section. However, I encourage you to scroll through the full list, because you might find some surprising finds in unexpected genres.
Six Novels Set in Paris
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
This book is one of my favorite novels set in Paris. The setting’s frosty posh Parisian digs, belie the warm heart of the book. It features a cantankerous building concierge and a young teenager who lives in the building. Both are very carefully hiding their pain and intellectual talents from other building residents who seem not to notice (or much care).
This book is distributed by Europa Editions. If you like works in translation, check out their full catalog, cause it’s stocked with some very worthy reads.
The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, Katherine Pancol
When Josephine’s husband takes off on an improbable boondoggle to start a croc farm in Kenya, she is forced to figure out how to make ends meet. She’s never made quite enough money as a 12th century researcher. So when her author sister cooks up a scheme to have Josephine pen her next historical novel, she reluctantly agrees.
Hunting and Gathering, Anna Gavalda
For some people, families aren’t found but rather they are made. Gavalda’s quartet of misfits find themselves connected initially by need and then by love.
“This story is about love in all the places it can be hidden.”
Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell and Terry Fan
Did you know that there is a secret world in Paris where street urchins live on the rooftops? This story follows one such kid who is evading the French authorities while searching for her long lost mother.
Paris for One and Other Stories, Jojo Moyes
Moyes’ short story collection consists of a novella and several short stories. The novella features a women stood up by her boyfriend for a weekend getaway to Paris. She surprises herself by carrying on and diving into what might be the most adventurous weekend of her life.
“No need to worry where this road trip is headed. Just sit back, roll down your window and enjoy being a passenger.”
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
While his fiance is away, David embarks upon an affair with Giovanni. He finds himself caught between his repressed desires and conventional 1950’s morality.
“Beautiful & tragic love story…way ahead of its time.”
Five Novels Set in Paris During World War II
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
This novel is set in Paris during World War II and it features a blind Parisian girl and a young German orphan. She struggles to live with the German occupation and he is a German enlisted to root out the resistance. This book basically won all of the awards, including the Pulitzer and National Book Award long list
“It has been a while since I have found a book that I wanted to read slowly so that I could soak in every detail in hopes that the last page seems to never come. “
Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay
This book is also set in Paris during WWII. It features a ten year old girl whose family is brutally arrested during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Jewish pogrom. The story skips forward to 2002 when journalist Julia is tasked with writing an article about the pogrom and she uncovers long hidden secrets.
Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky
This story begins in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. It features a collection of Parisians attempting to flee in advance of the occupation. What makes this novel particularly poignant is that the author herself was caught up in the round up of Jews and later died in Auschwitz.
The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
This book won accolades as Good Reads’ historical fiction book of the year, a Wall Street Journal best book of the year and it sat on the NY Times bestseller list for a good long time. It features two sisters forced to make impossible choices in order to survive the occupation.
“The author says on her website that “In war, women’s stories are all too often forgotten or overlooked.” I had never thought about how true that really was until I read this book.”
The Room on Rue Amelie, Kristin Harmel
This book set in Paris during WWII is a good read-alike for the book above. It tells the story of an American newlywed, a Jewish girl, and an RAF pilot. Fate brings them together…and together, they fight to survive.
“Always heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking.”
Four Historical Fiction Books Set in Paris
Paris, Edward Rutherfurd
Rutherfurd’s books are great for people who can’t take the dry prose of historical nonfiction. He’s written historical fiction books set in Paris, London, Ireland, New York and Russia. This one follows a thread of interviewing blood lines from Roman time through post WWII.
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
This novel imagines what life was like for Hemingway’s wife, Hadley. They married in 1920 and then moved to Paris to experience the wild Jazz Age life featured in his book The Sun Also Rises. McLain was inspired to write the book after reading A Moveable Feast (noted below). She wanted to capture Bohemian Paris, Hemingway’s mercurial nature and their tempestuous relationship. This book is good on audio.
Quartet, Jean Rhys
In Quartet, Rhys also presents a version of 1920’s Bohemian Paris. This is a fictionalized account of Rhys’ own abandonment by her imprisoned husband and her fraught affair with a married man. It’s not all nightclubs and champagne for her. She has to scrape by using whatever means possible.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo
Before the sixteen screen adaptions of the Hunchback of Notre Dame (I’m not kidding, Google it), there was the original. This is an epic melodramatic love story set against the backdrop of medieval Paris. Hugo lays bare hypocracy, suffering, compassion, melancholy and human spirit.
“If you watched Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” you do not know this story at all.”
If you are traveling to Paris, be sure to visit the Victor Hugo museum, located on the Place Vosges in the Marais.
Four Books about Bookstores in Paris
I’m a sucker for books about books, bookshops and libraries. It’s books on top of books! These four books about Paris bookshops really deliver on that meta theme.
The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
The main character of this book owns a small bookshop housed in a small barge on the Seine. He considers himself a “literary apothecary” and rather than selling his customers the books that they think they want, he sells them the books that he knows they need. But he has his own needs and he soon embarks upon a watery adventure to discover his great love.
A Novel Bookstsore, Laurence Cosse
The Good Novel Bookstore simply wants to offer its customers literary masterpieces. They shun commercialism in favor of a quality selection of works carefully curated by a secretive committee of authors. But it’s not all uppity airs and “litrachure”, because there is a compelling mystery at the heart of this book with plenty of suspense and whodunnit to keep the plot moving.
The Red Notebook, Antoine Laurain
This quintessential French romance follows a bookseller on a delightful quest to return a lost notebook to its owner. He falls in love with her along the way, well before he meets her. This charming book is a cozy armchair read for a rainy day.
Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co, Jeremy Mercer
Mercer was broke in Paris when he got invited to a party with some riffraff from Shakespeare & Co. The bookstore is the English language bookstore in Paris and they have a quirky habit of simply letting people move in, which Mercer does. This memoir features his time in the store and the whacky cast of characters that inhabit it.
While I didn’t move in, I did hang out at the store on my most recent visit to Paris. Should you wish to do so as well, you can find it featured in my 4-day Paris itinerary.
“In Paris they simply stared at me when I spoke to them in French. I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.”Mark Twain
Five Mystery Novels Set in Paris
Murder in the Marais, Cara Black
This mystery novel set in Paris is the first in Black’s Aimee Leduc series. Aimee is a private investigator unafraid to take on dirty cops, cold cases and deathbed secrets. Murder in the Marais finds a simple investigation going sideways when old secrets start surfacing in Paris’ historical Jewish quarter. You don’t have to read these books in order, but it’s best if you do. However, each book is set in a particular neighborhood. So, if you are traveling to Paris, choose the title related to where you are staying.
The World at Night, Alan Furst
Furst is a master at suspenseful historical books. This mystery is set in Paris in 1940. Prosperous filmmaker Jean Casson has some trouble adjusting to the rude reality of Nazi occupied Paris. But he ultimately finds himself willing to gamble it all on on missions for the British Secret Service.
Have Mercy on Us All, Fred Vargas
Is it the bubonic plague? Or is something else going on? Chief Inspector Adamsberg is brought in to figure out why symbols of the black death have been popping up in Paris.
“Fred Vargas novels have a slow pace, in which one saviors the odd characters, the odd happenings, and then the odd murders.”
The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
Leroux’s Phantom is the original mystery novel set in Paris. It was published in 1910 and follows chorus girl Christine. She is taught to sing by the Phantom. He becomes enraged when Christine is reunited with a childhood friend and a drama of Gothic proportion ensues. This is definitely more dark and twisty than the musical version.
An Officer and a Spy, Robert Harris
This historical spy thriller set in Paris in the 1890’s is fueled by dramatic action and moral complexities. Georges Picquart believes that Aldred Dreyfus has been duly convicted of treason. That is, until Picquart is promoted to the head of the French spy agency and he soon uncovers evidence that the spy is still at large.
Four Memoirs Taking Place in Paris
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, Thad Carhart
Carhart’s personal story follows his discovery of the Desforges Piano shop (and it’s imperious owner). His time in the shop and engagement with the owner offers a biography of the piano itself and also the author’s own reintroduction to his childhood passion.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Sedaris didn’t speak a lick of French when he moved to Paris. This memoir shares his attempts to learn the language…and also how it is to be an expat in Paris. It’s full of his usual keenly observed encounters, his weird obsessions and even features a taxidermy shop. I strongly recommend that you listen to this (and all of his books) on audio.
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs, Elaine Sciolino
This is less a memoir than an homage to Sciolino’s favorite street in Paris. There are a lot of ghosts on the Rue des Martyrs, including Degas, Zola, Renoir and the Jesuit martyrs themselves.
“If travel to Paris isn’t possible, well, this lovely book is the next best thing.”
A Moveable Feast, Earnest Hemingway
Hemingway’s Paris exploits in the 1920’s were a critical factor in his development as a writer. Cafe living on $5 a day and all of the Bohemia that you can handle! This book is a who’s who of the 1920’s literati with drop ins from Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”Ernest Hemingway
Four History Books about Paris
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, Graham Robb
Robb tells the history of Paris through stranger-than-fiction stories ranging from the Revolution to modern day. Each of the twenty people featured is a mystery which Robb unravels though narrative vignettes.
How Paris Became Paris, Joan DeJean
Between the seventh and eighteenth centuries, Paris was transformed from a swampy series of disconnected neighborhoods into a truly modern urban wonder. This deliberate urban planning created the public spaces and walkable boulevards that brought Parisian citizens together.
The Seven Ages of Paris, Alistair Horne
Horne explores pivotal moments in Paris’ history. He focuses on an idiosyncratic phylum of ages (such as medieval and Renaissance Paris, Napoleonic Paris and the Belle Epoque era) to look at not only hard historical facts, but also social and cultural life.
The Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne managed to amass a small fortune during hedonistic Paris of the 19th century. She came from lowly beginnings but scandalously managed to catch the eye of Napoleon III, Manet and Zola.
Get Inspired to Visit the City of Light
Read More Books!
Do some armchair travel with these book lists for other countries.
- Find more Hemingway with these books set in Cuba.
- Get hunky Scots and urban edge with these books set in Scotland.
- Learn about post-colonial transitions and civil war conflict with these books set in Sri Lanka.
- Get inspired to take a pilgrimage with these books on the Camino de Santiago.
- Find dark humor and moody landscapes by reading these books set in Ireland.
- Find frosty landscapes and viking sagas in these books set in Iceland.
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