Bastille Day

Books to mark the thrilling history of France’s world-shaking revolution.

A Tale of Two Cities

By Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” After an opening as well-known as the momentous events of 1789, Charles Dickens transported readers to the explosive climax of the Revolution and the “Terror” that followed. From the storming of the Bastille to the guillotine’s grim work, Dickens viscerally recaptures the excitement and dread of the moment as only he could.


By Simon Schama

This elegant and highly readable account captures the most dramatic milestones and central figures involved in the French Revolution, while delving deeply into the historical roots of its upheaval. Simon Schama brings a novelist’s eye to the task of painting Louis XVI’s France — a vibrant nation gripped by runaway social change.

When the King Took Flight

By Timothy Tackett

Held essentially under house arrest in Paris, the captive King Louis XVI undertook an ill-fated plan in June of 1791 to escape to the eastern frontier and raise a counterrevolutionary army. As Thomas Tackett shows in this exciting retelling, the eventual capture of the fleeing King before he crossed the border only strengthened the hands of the radicals, who would ensure his execution.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey

By Antonia Fraser

Best-selling biographer Atonia Fraser draws on a treasure-trove of family letters and other archival materials to tell the utterly riveting, intensely moving story of the doomed French Queen and her role in her adopted country’s upheaval. (As Fraser’s sympathetic narrative makes clear, despite Marie Antoinette’s many missteps, she never actually said, “Let them eat cake.”)

Vive la Revolution

By Mark Steel

In an effort to reclaim France’s popular revolution from academic elites, Mark Steel delivers an uproariously serious work of history that puts a human face on the raw material of 1789. Keen to defend the ideals that inspired the Third Estate’s efforts before the revolution descended into a bloodbath, the author offers a fresh perspective sure to shake up your understanding of the epoch.