Flamboyant intellectuals: René Descartes (main picture) and Bernard-Henri Lévy (below), in 1978

Liberty, philosophy and 246 types of cheese

20 June 2015 9:00 am

The French have always favoured grand, elegant abstractions about the human condition, says Ruth Scurr. It’s part of their national identity

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung (Photo: Getty)

Carl Jung meets David Icke (and writes a book of bonkers business-speak)

25 April 2015 9:00 am

What do you get if you cross renegade psychoanalyst Carl Jung with lizard-men conspiracist David Icke? It is a question…

Lu Kongjiang, taking part in a ‘bee beard’ competition in Shaoyang, Hunan Province, China, 2011 From In Praise of Bees: A Cabinet of Curiosities by Elizabeth Birchall (Quiller Publishing, £30, pp. 255, ISBN 9781846891922)

Bees make magic: an inspirational case for biodiversity

13 September 2014 9:00 am

The importance of biodiversity, a handy concept that embraces diversity of eco-systems, species, genes and molecules, has been promoted for…

A meeting between the Vichy and Nazi chiefs, 1941 Photo: Popperfoto/Getty

The cold, remote plateau of Vichy France where good was done

28 June 2014 9:00 am

It is with a heavy heart that I pick up anything to do with the Holocaust. Not because it’s wearisome…

Appalling retributions and atrocities marked the end of the Free Republic of the Vercors. A French Resistance fighter is hanged in 1944

Reliving the most famous last stand of the French Resistance

7 June 2014 9:00 am

Published to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Vercors, perhaps the most famous stand of the French Resistance…

Portrait of Napoleon by Joseph Chabord (1766–1848)

The men who invented Napoleon

14 December 2013 9:00 am

Writing about Napoleon is a risky business. It exposes the author to the brickbats of the blind worshippers for whom…

‘I don’t mind being a monster, but there are limits’

The World According to Karl, edited by Jean-Christophe Napias - review

14 September 2013 9:00 am

Every fashion era has its monster and in ours it’s Karl Lagerfeld, a man who has so emptied himself on…

The armoured cars of Leclerc’s division arrive at the Rue Guynemer on 25 August

Eleven Days in August, by Matthew Cobb - review

4 May 2013 9:00 am

It is fair to assume that Professor Matthew Cobb has often been asked if he is related to Professor Richard…


Storm in a wastepaper basket

11 February 2012 10:00 am

‘It’s the revenge of Dreyfus,’ came the cry from the dock. The speaker was the veteran right-wing ideologue, Charles Maurras,…

Chagrin d’amour

19 November 2011 10:00 am

The horror of love: Nancy Mitford’s first fiancé was gay; her husband, Peter Rodd, was feckless, spendthrift and unsympathetic, and…

French with tears

6 August 2011 12:00 am

A history of international French that makes one long for plain English


Hall of mirrors

4 June 2011 12:00 am

After the Nazi occupation of Paris was over, Sartre famously said — somewhat hypocritically, given his own slippery behaviour — that the only possibilities had been collaboration or resistance.

Very drôle

28 May 2011 12:00 am

It’s nice to know that the trees lining the roads in Paris have microchips embedded in their trunks, that the city council is controlling the pigeon population by shaking the eggs to make them infertile and that the Café Voisin served elephant consommé during the 1870 siege.


Setting the world to rights

7 May 2011 12:00 am

Jonathan Sumption finds that the philosophes of the French Enlightenment shared little with one another and even less with the revolutionaries who followed them


Massacre of the innocents

12 March 2011 12:00 am

‘La justice flétrit, la prison corrompt et la société a les criminels qu’elle mérite’ — Justice withers, prison corrupts, and society gets the criminals it deserves.


The French connection

7 August 2010 12:00 am

If ever there was a novel to which that old adage about not judging a book by its cover could be applied, it’s this one.


L’homme qui dit non

31 July 2010 12:00 am

The study of history is a subversive calling.


Scourge of the ancien régime

14 April 2010 12:00 am

Voltaire’s was a long and amazing life.


The people and the place

7 April 2010 12:00 am

Where to begin? Graham Robb, like all dedicated Francophiles, begins early, when his enlightened parents made him a present of a trip to Paris and sent him off with a map and a voucher for a free gift at the Galeries Lafayette.


The reality behind the novels

10 March 2010 12:00 am

‘I never knew peaceful times’, Irène Némirovsky once said, ‘I’ve always lived in anxiety and often in danger’.


Not as bad as the French

10 March 2010 12:00 am

This is a long book, but its argument can be shortly stated.

Prize-winning novels from France

30 December 2009 12:00 am

After an unremarkable year for fiction the Prix Goncourt was awarded to Marie Ndiaye for a novel — actually three novellas — which must have beguiled the judges by the sheer unfamiliarity of its contents.

Poisonous relations

30 December 2009 12:00 am

‘The Axis powers and France,’ declared Marshall Pétain and Hitler at Montoire in October 1940, ‘have a common interest in the defeat of England as soon as possible.’ Why this should have been so is one of the many interesting questions to which this book offers no satisfactory answer.

Disastrous twilight

14 December 2009 12:00 am

With the opening paragraph of The Dogs and the Wolves (first serialised in France in 1939 and never previously translated) Irène Némirovsky takes us to the heart of her story: the complexities of Jewish life in eastern Europe and France in the first part of the 20th century.


Mysteries of Paris

11 March 2009 12:00 am

The Chalk Circle Man, by Fred Vargas, translated