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France, major industrialized nation in western Europe. France is the third largest country in Europe, after Russia and Ukraine, and the fourth most populous. Officially the French Republic (Republique Francaise), the nation includes ten overseas possessions, most of them remnants of France’s former colonial empire. Paris is the nation’s capital and largest city.

Roughly hexagonal in shape, France shares boundaries with Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast; Germany, Switzerland, and Italy to the east; and Spain and Andorra to the southwest. In the northwest, France is bounded by the English Channel. At the Strait of Dover, the narrowest part of the channel, France and England are separated by just 34 km (21 mi). France faces three major seas: the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the North Sea to the north, and the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast.

France is a nation of varied landscapes, ranging from coastal lowlands and broad plains in the north, to hilly uplands in south central France, to lush valleys and towering, snow-capped Alps in the east. Mountainous and hilly areas lie on nearly all of France’s borders, creating a series of natural boundaries for the country. Only the nation’s northeastern border is largely unprotected. Several major rivers drain France, including the Seine, Loire, Garonne, and Rhone.

France is highly urbanized. Three-quarters of the population lives in cities, including more than ten million people in the metropolitan area of Paris, the most densely populated region in France. The French are among the healthiest, wealthiest, and best-educated people in the world. A comprehensive social welfare system is in place, guaranteeing all citizens a minimal standard of living and health care. Most citizens speak French, the principal language. The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism.

French culture, especially French art and literature, has profoundly influenced the Western world. Paris, one of the world’s great intellectual capitals, has been at the center of Western cultural life since the Middle Ages. World-renowned French cultural figures include philosophers, writers, painters, sculptors, architects, composers, playwrights, and film directors. French literary and artistic contributions during the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment deeply influenced the path of Western cultural development. Impressionism, an innovative painting movement in the late 19th century, originated in France. During the 20th century, French writers and artists were at the center of movements such as dada, surrealism, existentialism, and the theater of the absurd. France has a long reputation for excellence in cuisine, and French fashion styles are imitated throughout the world.

The economy of France is large, diverse, and one of the most highly developed in the European Union (EU). It is a leading manufacturing nation, producing goods such as automobiles, electrical equipment, machine tools, and chemicals. France is the EU’s most important agricultural nation—shipping cereals, wine, cheese, and other agricultural products to the rest of Europe and the world. In recent decades service industries, including banking, retail and wholesale trade, communications, health care, and tourism, have come to dominate the French economy.

France is one of the oldest states in the Western world and its history is rich and varied. Little is known of France’s earliest inhabitants. Cave paintings in southwestern France dated to about 15,000 bc reveal the existence of a sophisticated and creative people. By the 8th century bc hordes of Celts, among other tribes, began entering and settling in France. A Celtic word, Gaul, was a name used in antiquity for the region of France. The ancient Romans incorporated France in the 1st century bc and ruled the region until the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century ad.

After the fall of Rome, a series of royal dynasties ruled much of what would become France. Royal power declined in the Middle Ages with the spread of feudalism, which distributed power among local rulers. From the 14th to 18th century the power of the monarchy grew steadily as French kings and their ministers built a centralized bureaucracy and a large standing army. The French Revolution in 1789 toppled the monarchy, ushering in decades of political instability. Despite this turmoil, the revolution, and the subsequent rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, established a uniform administrative state in France.

French strength and prosperity grew during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and France built a worldwide colonial empire rivaling that of the United Kingdom. Much of World War I (1914-1918) was fought on French soil, and the nation suffered heavy losses. During World War II (1939-1945), Germany occupied northern France while a collaborationist regime was established at Vichy in central France. After the war France rebuilt its shattered economy and emerged as one of the world’s major industrial countries. Growing resistance to French rule in the colonies increased in the postwar period, triggering a wave of decolonization that stripped France of most of its overseas possessions.

In 1958 an uprising in Algeria, then a French colony, threatened France with civil war. The French government surrendered dictatorial power to Charles de Gaulle, a resistance leader during World War II, and invited de Gaulle to form a new government. French voters approved a new constitution by popular referendum that strengthened the powers of the presidency, and de Gaulle became the new government’s first president. De Gaulle viewed France as a great power, and he followed an independent stance in foreign affairs, a policy that helped boost France’s international influence. In recent decades, France, working closely with Germany, has played a leading role in the move toward greater European economic and political integration.


For younger readers

Carroll, Bob. Napoleon Bonaparte. Lucent, 1994. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Corzine, Phyllis. The French Revolution. Lucent, 1995. For readers in grades 8 and up.

Gofen, Ethel C. France. Marshall Cavendish, 1992. In the Cultures of the World series, for readers in grades 5 to 7.

Ingham, Richard. France. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 2000. For readers in grade 7 and up.

Nardo, Don. France. Children's Press, 2000. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Ngcheong-Lum, Roseline. France. Gareth Stevens, 1999. For readers in grades 5 to 7.

Otfinoski, Steven. Triumph and Terror: The French Revolution. Replica, 1999. For readers in grade 9 and up.

French literature

Bree, Germaine.Trans. Louis Guiney. Twentieth-Century French Literature. University of Chicago Press, 1962, 1983. A general overview of modern French writing.

France, Peter, ed. The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French. Oxford University Press, 1995. Nearly 3,000 alphabetical entries about worldwide French language writing.

Hollier, Denis, ed. A New History of French Literature. Harvard University Press, 1989, 1994. Essays by specialists presenting an overview of French writing from 842 to the present.

Levi, Anthony. Guide to French Literature. 2 vols. St. James, 1992-1994. An in-depth study of major French writers and literary movements.Vol. 1: Beginnings to 1789.Vol. 2: 1789 to the present.

Unwin, Timothy, ed. Cambridge Companion to the French Novel: From 1800 to the Present. Cambridge University Press, 1997. Essays on aspects of the modern French novel.

France: History

Agulhon, Maurice. The French Republic, 1879-1992. Blackwell, 1993.

Bell, David S.; Douglas Johnson; and Peter Morris, eds. Biographical Dictionary of French Political Leaders Since 1870. Simon & Schuster, 1990. From Napoleon III to Mitterrand; signed articles with suggestions for further reading.

Bell, P. M. H. France and Britain, 1940-1994: The Long Separation. Longman, 1997. A study of relations between France and Britain in the 20th century. Second volume of a two-volume set.

Caro, Ina. The Road from the Past: Traveling Through History in France. Doubleday, 1994. Guide to historical sites in France, including Roman ruins, cliffside monasteries, walled cities, chateaux, manors, and palaces.

Cobban, Alfred. A History of Modern France. 3 vols. Penguin, 1966. The standard work in English, covers 1715 to the early 1960s.

Connelly, Owen, ed. Historical Dictionary of Napoleonic France, 1799-1815. Greenwood, 1985. Articles on all aspects of the period, with references to related articles and a year-by-year chronology of events.

Duby, Georges. France in the Middle Ages. Blackwell, 1991.

Geary, Patrick. Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford University Press, 1988. Earliest history, up to 987 AD.

Jones, Colin. The Cambridge Illustrated History of France. Cambridge University Press, 1994. Summary of French history from prehistory to the 20th century.

Kibler, William W., and others, eds. Medieval France: An Encyclopedia. Garland, 1995. Introduces political, economic, social, religious, intellectual, literary, and artistic history of France from the 5th to the 15th century.

Northcutt, Wayne, ed. Historical Dictionary of the French Fourth and Fifth Republics, 1946-1991. Greenwood, 1992.

Northcutt, Wayne. The Regions of France: A Reference Guide to History and Culture. Greenwood, 1996. Guide to the 22 regions of modern France.

Wagner, Monique. From Gaul to De Gaulle: An Outline of French Civilization. Lang, 1989. Chronological synopsis of French history from Roman times through the 1960s.


Atget, Eugene. Atget: Paris. Hazan, Gingko, 1992, 1998. More than 800 of Atget's black-and-white photographs featuring Paris in the early morning.

Coles, Robert.A Traveller's History of Paris. 3rd ed. Interlink, 2003. An excellent resource for visitors to France's historic center.

Higonnet, Patrice. Paris: Capital of the World. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Harvard University Press, 2002. A cultural and intellectual history of Paris from the mid-18th century to World War II.

Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris. Random House, 2002. Entertaining history of the city of lights.

Karnow, Stanley. Paris in the Fifties. Times, 1997. Crown, 1999. The author's story of his early years in Paris.

Poisson, Michel, and John Goodman. Paris: Buildings and Monuments: An Illustrated Guide with over 850 Drawings and Neighborhoods Maps. Abrams, 1999. A wonderfully illustrated tour of the City of Lights.

Trout, Andrew P. City on the Seine: Paris in the Time of Richelieu and Louis XIV. St. Martin's, 1996. Focuses on the river and its influence on Parisian society.

Weinreb, Matthew, and Fiona Biddulph. Paris: Portrait of a City. Phaidon, 1999. A visual essay on Parisian monuments and icons.

Willms, Johannes. Paris, Capital of Europe: From the Revolution to the Belle Epoque. Holmes & Meier, 1997, 2002. A history of Paris from 1789 to 1914.


Benedict, Philip. Huguenot Population of France, 1600-1685: The Demographic Fate and Customs of a Religious Minority. American Philosophical Society, 1991.

Butler, Jon. The Huguenots in America: A Refugee People in a New World Society. Harvard University Press, 1984. Follows the plight of French Protestants immigrating to America after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Cottret, B. J.Trans. Peregrine Stevenson and Adriana Stevenson. The Huguenots in England: Immigration and Settlement, 1550-1700. Cambridge University Press, 1992. Study of the experiences of Huguenots seeking refuge from persecution in England.

Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629. Cambridge University Press, 1995. A social history of the French and the religious factionalism that consumed this period.

Rothrock, George A. The Huguenots: A Biography of a Minority. Nelson-Hall, 1979. Introductory history of French Protestantism from 1520 to 1685.

French Revolution

Baczko, Bronislaw.Trans. Michel Petheram. Ending the Terror: The French Revolution After Robespierre. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Bosher, J. F. The French Revolution. Norton, 1989. A thorough and well-illustrated study that places particular emphasis on the years prior to the outbreak of violence in 1789.

Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford University Press, 1989. A revisionist perspective on the French Revolution.

Dunn, Susan. Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light. Faber & Faber, 1999, 2000. Compares the causes and ideas behind the French Revolution and the American Revolution and the resulting systems of government.

Feher, Ferenc, ed. The French Revolution and the Birth of Modernity. University of California Press, 1990. Collection of articles by major writers on the French Revolution.

Hibbert, Christopher. The Days of the French Revolution. Morrow, 1981. HarperCollins, 1999. Provides day-by-day coverage of the French Revolution; for general readers, with illustrations.

Lefebvre, Georges.Trans. R. R. Palmer. Coming of the French Revolution, 1789. Princeton University Press, 1947, 1989. The standard study of the French Revolution's origins, first published in 1939.

Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Random House, 1990. A revisionist perspective marking the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, complete with maps and illustrations.

France: Politics, Society, and Culture

Brosman, Catharine Savage, ed. Dictionary of Twentieth Century Culture: French Culture 1900-1975. Gale, 1995. Primarily biographical entries present a picture of high and popular culture.

Corbett, James. Through French Windows: An Introduction to France in the Nineties. University of Michigan Press, 1994. Analysis of French civilization that examines individual and societal experiences.

Fisher, Teresa. France. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1997. General description of France, with a particular study of Beuvron-en-Auge and Aix-en-Provence. For middle school readers.

Lebovics, Herman. True France: The Wars Over Cultural Identity, 1900-1945. Cornell University Press, 1992. Study of French nationalism.

Morland, Miles. Miles Away: A Walk across France. Random House, 1993. An account of a 350-mile walk through the foothills of the Pyrenees by the author and his wife.

Northcutt, Wayne. The Regions of France: A Reference Guide to History and Culture. Greenwood, 1996.

Rearick, Charles. The French in Love and War: Popular Culture in the Era of the World Wars. Yale University Press, 1997. Study of myths and symbols of French popular culture.


Adams, William James, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of Economics and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, University of Michigan. Author of Restructuring the French Economy: Government and the Rise of Market Competition Since World War II.

Jordan—Bychkov, Terry 6., B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas, Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin. Coauthor of The Human Mosaic: A Thematic Introduction to Cultural Geography.

Kaiser, Thomas E., B.A., Ph.D. Professor of History, University of Arkansas, Little Rock. Coeditor of Environment and Social Change: Essays in Historical Ecology and Perceptions of Reality: A Sourcebook in the Social History of Western Civilization.

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