The Greatest French "Nonfiction" Books Since 1900

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 305 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

    This influential work explores the treatment and perception of women throughout history, arguing that women have been repressed and defined only in relation to men. The author presents a detailed analysis of women's roles in society, family, work, and in the creation of their own identities. She discusses the concept of 'the other' and how this has been used to suppress women, while also examining the biological, psychological, and societal impacts of this oppression. The book is a seminal text in feminist theory, challenging traditional notions of femininity and calling for equality and freedom for women.

    The 130th Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

    This book is a philosophical essay that explores the concept of absurdity, and how individuals should respond to life's inherent meaninglessness. It posits that life is essentially absurd due to the conflict between our desire for understanding and the chaotic, indifferent universe. The author argues that the only proper response to this absurdity is to live life to its fullest, embracing and rebelling against the absurdity, rather than resorting to suicide or turning to religion or philosophy for false comfort. The story of Sisyphus, condemned to eternally roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down, is used as a metaphor for the human condition.

    The 580th Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre

    This philosophical work delves into the concept of existentialism and phenomenology, offering an in-depth analysis of human consciousness and existence. The author argues that we are all essentially free and responsible for our actions, and that we construct our own identities through our actions and interactions with others. The book also explores the idea of 'nothingness' and 'bad faith', suggesting that we often deny our freedom and hide from the responsibility of our actions, leading to a life of inauthenticity.

    The 630th Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. Mythologies by Roland Barthes

    This book is a collection of essays that explore the layers of cultural and societal meanings that are imbued in everyday objects, activities, and phenomena. The author decodes the symbols and signs embedded in things as varied as wrestling, soap detergents, toys, and even the face of Greta Garbo. The book is a pioneering exploration of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols, and it challenges readers to question and understand the cultural connotations and ideologies that are presented as natural or given in our everyday lives.

    The 811th Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss

    "Tristes Tropiques" is a blend of autobiography, travel literature, and anthropology by a renowned scholar. The book is a recounting of the author's travels and anthropological work, primarily in Brazil, in the 1930s. It provides a critical and philosophical reflection on his experiences and observations, offering insights into indigenous tribes like the Nambikwara and Tupi-Kawahib, and exploring themes of cultural change, the nature of anthropology, and the author's own disillusionment with Western civilization.

    The 824th Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. Words by Jean Paul Sartre

    This book is a memoir that explores the author's early life and development as an intellectual. He reflects on his childhood experiences in a non-linear narrative, detailing his relationship with his mother and grandfather, his early education, and his evolving understanding of language and literature. The author also delves into his philosophical ideas, examining the concept of existentialism and the role of the individual in society. The book serves as a profound exploration of the power of words and the impact of childhood experiences on adult life.

    The 887th Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters by Gustave Flaubert

    This book is a compilation of the personal correspondence between two of the most prominent French literary figures of the 19th century. Their letters offer an intimate look into their lives, thoughts, and the deep friendship they shared. The exchange covers a wide range of topics, including their literary works, their critiques of each other's work, their views on contemporary society, politics, and culture, as well as their personal joys, sorrows, and struggles.

    The 1041st Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault

    This book delves into the historical evolution of the penal system, examining how Western societies have transitioned from a regime of violent, public physical punishment to a more subtle form of surveillance and control. It introduces the concept of the "panopticon," a metaphor for modern disciplinary societies that exercise power through observation and normalization rather than through overt physical coercion. The work explores the relationship between power, knowledge, and social control, arguing that disciplinary mechanisms are embedded in various institutions, such as schools, hospitals, and prisons, shaping individuals and maintaining order in society.

    The 1064th Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. The Mediterranean And The Mediterranean World In The Age Of Philip Ii by Fernand Braudel

    This seminal work offers a comprehensive analysis of the Mediterranean region during the 16th century, focusing on the complex social, political, and economic landscapes that defined the era of Philip II of Spain. The book transcends traditional historiography by emphasizing the geographical and ecological factors that shaped human activity, from the ebb and flow of commerce and the patterns of agrarian life to the rise and fall of empires. Through a meticulous study of the Mediterranean world, the narrative weaves together the intricate tapestry of cultures, religions, and power dynamics that characterized the period, providing a vivid portrayal of the enduring influence of the environment on the course of human history.

    The 1124th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary

    "Promise at Dawn" is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the life of a young man growing up in Eastern Europe, and later in France, under the shadow of his ambitious and eccentric mother. The protagonist's journey takes him through various phases of his life from his childhood, through his experiences as a pilot in World War II, to his adult life as a diplomat and a writer. The story is a tribute to the protagonist's mother, who instilled in him the values of courage, resilience, and the pursuit of grandeur, even in the face of adversity.

    The 1239th Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. Journals: 1889-1913 by André Gide

    "Journals: 1889-1913" is a compilation of personal entries by a prominent French author, written over a span of 24 years. The journals offer a deep insight into the author's thoughts, emotions, and experiences, providing a unique window into his personal life and his creative process. The entries also reflect on the social, political, and cultural events of the time, making the journals not only a personal memoir but also a historical document of late 19th and early 20th century France.

    The 1408th Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. The Rebel by Albert Camus

    "The Rebel" is a philosophical exploration of rebellion and revolution. It dissects the nature and origins of rebellion, arguing that it arises from a basic human refusal to accept injustice. The book delves into the many forms rebellion can take, from personal revolt to political revolution, and examines the consequences and ethics of each. The author also critically evaluates the rebellious attitudes of various historical figures and movements, highlighting the potential for rebellion to either affirm or destroy human dignity.

    The 1411th Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    This book is a memoir by an early twentieth-century French aviator, sharing his experiences as a pioneer of aviation in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly in remote places such as the Sahara Desert and the Andes Mountains. The author reflects on the nature of adventure, the allure of the unknown, and the profound connection between human beings and the natural world. The book is also notable for its philosophical musings on the nature of life and death, solitude and solidarity, and the human condition.

    The 1650th Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau

    "The Silent World" is an autobiographical account of a pioneering oceanographer and his team's underwater explorations. The book documents their adventures and discoveries, including the development and use of the first scuba diving equipment. The author shares his experiences of exploring shipwrecks, interacting with various marine life, and the dangers they faced in the depths of the ocean. The book also emphasizes the importance of marine conservation and the need to protect our oceans.

    The 1830th Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. For a New Novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet

    "For a New Novel" is a collection of essays by a prominent French writer and filmmaker, where he challenges the traditional norms of narrative and character development in novels. The author argues for a new form of novel, one that focuses more on the objectivity of description and the presentation of things as they are, rather than on the psychological analysis of characters. He criticizes the conventional novel for its reliance on plot, causality, and character development, and instead proposes a novel that is more concerned with the surface of things, their materiality and their presence in space and time.

    The 2018th Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton

    The Surrealist Manifesto is a groundbreaking work that introduces and defines the surrealist movement in literature and art. The book, written by the founder of the movement, presents the idea that the rational mind represses the power of the imagination, weighting it down with taboos. It argues that the world of dreams and the unconscious should be embraced to enhance creativity, leading to more complete and fulfilling human experience. The book also criticizes traditional societal structures and norms, advocating for revolution and freedom of thought.

    The 2018th Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. The Theater and Its Double by Antonin Artaud

    This book is a collection of manifestos, letters, and essays on theatre written by a 20th-century playwright and actor. It advocates for the Theatre of Cruelty, a form of theatre that rejects the comforts of traditional literature and the physicality of dance and pantomime. Instead, it emphasizes the use of symbolism, gesture, and expression to reveal the basest instincts of humanity and the subconscious mind. The author argues that theatre should not be a mere representation of reality but should affect the audience on a deep, visceral level.

    The 2104th Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. Papillon by Henri Charrière

    The book is a memoir that chronicles the harrowing experiences of a Frenchman who is wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in the penal colonies of French Guiana. Determined to regain his freedom, he makes numerous escape attempts, facing incredible odds and enduring brutal conditions. His indomitable spirit and will to survive lead him through a series of adventures and misadventures, including solitary confinement, a stint in a leper colony, and living with indigenous tribes. Throughout his ordeal, his nickname, derived from the butterfly tattoo on his chest, becomes a symbol of his unyielding quest for liberty.

    The 2237th Greatest Book of All Time
  19. 19. To The Friend Who Did Not Save My Life by Hervé Guibert

    The book is a candid and harrowing autobiographical novel that chronicles the life of a man grappling with the devastating impact of AIDS during the early years of the epidemic. Through a blend of fact and fiction, the narrative delves into the protagonist's personal experiences with illness, the medical establishment, and the emotional complexities of friendship and mortality. As he confronts his own declining health, the protagonist reflects on the relationships with those around him, including a close friend who is also facing the disease, and the betrayal he feels when a promised miracle cure fails to materialize. The novel is a raw and poignant exploration of the human condition in the face of an unforgiving illness.

    The 2356th Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. The Edge of the Sword by Charles De Gaulle

    "The Edge of the Sword" is a compelling exploration of the art of leadership and the nature of power. The author, a prominent military and political figure, delves into the essence of politics and the requirements of leadership, emphasizing the need for strength, courage, and an unwavering commitment to one's principles. The book also provides a unique insight into the author's own leadership style and his views on France's role in the world.

    The 2693rd Greatest Book of All Time
  21. 21. Strange Defeat by Marc Bloch

    "Strange Defeat" is a wartime memoir written by a French historian who served as a soldier during World War II. In the book, the author critically analyzes the reasons behind the swift and shocking fall of France to Germany in 1940. The author attributes the defeat to the outdated strategies and poor leadership of the French military and government, and also highlights the social and political issues that plagued France at the time. The book is not only a personal account but also a profound critique of French society and its institutions.

    The 2700th Greatest Book of All Time
  22. 22. The Diary of Anais Nin, 1931-1934 by Anaïs Nin

    This book is a deeply personal journal of a woman's life from 1931 to 1934, providing an intimate look into her experiences, thoughts, and emotions during this period. The author explores her relationships, her struggles with her writing, and her journey of self-discovery. The diary also captures her interactions with notable personalities of the time, giving readers a unique glimpse into the cultural and social milieu of the early 20th century. Her introspective and poetic style adds a layer of depth to her observations and reflections.

    The 2779th Greatest Book of All Time
  23. 23. Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut

    The book is a comprehensive exploration of Alfred Hitchcock's films, based on a week-long series of interviews between the iconic British director and a renowned French filmmaker. It delves into Hitchcock's cinematic style, thematic preoccupations, and technical innovations, providing insights into his creative process. The dialogue format allows readers to witness an exchange of ideas between two film industry giants, offering a deeper understanding of Hitchcock's influence on cinema and his status as the master of suspense. The book also includes numerous stills from Hitchcock's films, adding a visual dimension to the discussion and making it an invaluable resource for film students, enthusiasts, and professionals alike.

    The 3058th Greatest Book of All Time
  24. 24. Notes On The Cinematographer by Robert Bresson

    "Notes on the Cinematographer" is a collection of aphoristic insights and reflections that delve into the art and philosophy of film-making. Compiled from the personal working notebooks of a renowned filmmaker, the book offers a unique exploration of the aesthetic and technical aspects of creating cinema. It emphasizes the importance of purity and restraint in the filmmaker's craft, advocating for a style that eschews theatricality in favor of revealing the hidden truths of characters and scenes through a minimalist approach. The work serves both as a practical guide and a philosophical treatise on the medium, providing readers with a deeper understanding of the author's distinct approach to filmmaking.

    The 3091st Greatest Book of All Time
  25. 25. Existentialism And Humanism by Jean Paul Sartre

    The book is a philosophical work that presents the core tenets of existentialist thought, emphasizing the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of their choices and actions. It argues that human existence precedes essence, meaning that people first exist without predetermined purpose and must then define themselves through their decisions and commitments. The text also addresses the implications of this freedom, including the weight of responsibility it places on individuals and the consequent anxiety, as well as the absence of a universal moral code. It concludes with a discussion on the role of human solidarity and the ethical considerations that arise from our interconnectedness with others.

    The 3279th Greatest Book of All Time

Reading Statistics

Click the button below to see how many of these books you've read!


If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.