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The historiography of France is vast. Of the general studies, the best is Alfred Cobban's A History of Modern France, which is a very readable three-volume set that covers the period from Louis XIV to 1962. For the dynamics of political history check out Simon Schama's Citizens, an influential and truly monumental work that examines the first few years after the storming of the Bastille in 1789.The literature on French social, cultural and intellectual development is also overwhelming. Theodore Zeldin's The French is a much-trumpeted study of national passions, peculiarities and perspectives. In much the same vein is John Ardagh's France Today, an exhaustive review of all aspects of modern-day French society.On women's position in society, see Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, a pioneering work that helped inspire the modern feminist movement. A more contemporary exposition is Claire Duchen's Feminism in France, which charts the progress of feminism in France from 1968 to the mid-1980s.A very tasty - indeed, the definitive - region-by-region introduction to French cuisine is Waverly Root's The Food of France. First published in 1958, it has recently been reissued in paperback.Twentieth-century French writing has ranged from the weighty ponderings of Malraux, Camus and Sartre to the historical novels of Marguerite Yourcenar and the lighter fare of Fran├žoise Sagan (Bonjour Tristesse). Georges Perec treated us to natty works, such as Life - A User's Manual and La Disparition, which was written without using the letter 'e' (and translated into English, just as e-less, as A Void). Alain Robbe-Grillet made a labour of literary play, redefining the French novel but leaving it unreadable. Emergent (and readable) voices in French literature include Annie Ernaux and Daniel Pennac (urban crime fiction).France has long attracted writers of the first rank from around the world. These include Ernest Hemingway, who wrote A Moveable Feast, a portrayal of bohemian life in Paris between the wars; and Gertrude Stein, whose The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas memorably recounts the author's years in Paris.Henry Miller also set a number of his 'sexy' novels in Paris, including the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. For a penetrating and poignant look at down-at-heel Paris in the late 1920s, read George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. More recently, Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence are best-selling accounts that take a witty, patronising and very English look at the French.Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot is a highly entertaining novel that pays homage to the great French writer.Classic works of travel literature about France include Henry James' A Little Tour in France and Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, a digressive and fanciful account of his 1765 coach tour through France and Italy. Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey is a reminder of the connection between hoofing it through remote regions and the increasing prettiness of Eeyore.

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