France -- history

The Journal of Hélène Berr

By David Bellos, translator

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The joyful but ultimately heartbreaking journal of a young Jewish woman in occupied Paris, now published for the first time, 63 years after her death. In 1942, Hélène Berr, a 21-year-old Jewish student at the Sorbonne, started to keep a journal, writing with verve and style about her everyday life in Paris--about her studies, her friends, her growing affection for the "boy with the grey eyes," about the sun in the dewdrops, and about the effect of the growing restrictions imposed by France's Nazi occupiers. Humiliations were to follow, which she records, now with a view to posterity. She wants the journal to go to her fiancé, who has enrolled with the Free French Forces, as she knows she may not live much longer. She was right. The final entry is dated February 15, 1944, and we now know she died in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, within a month of Anne Frank and just days before the liberation of the camp.

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Once Upon a Time with Charles Perrault

"As soon as he entered the wood all those great trees, and the interlaced brambles and thorns, separated to let him pass. He walked towards the castle, which he could see at the end of a great avenue. He was surprised that none of his companions had been able to follow him, since the trees had closed in again as soon as he had passed. But he did not falter. A young prince in love is always brave."

Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella. Puss in Boots. Little Red Riding Hood.
These enduring stories were created as we know them by a brilliant man who lived in 17th-century France. Although similar, but simpler stories were gathered more directly by the folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th century, it was Charles Perrault's addition of delicate and amusing words, crafted to entrance a noble audience, that caught fire with readers' imaginations and were the basis for the way these stories are remembered today. It is easy to see the difference between a story collected by Grimm and a tale sculpted by Perrault. A Grimm tale is simple and direct and sometimes alarming while Perrault's are laced with details that still fire modern imaginations.

The Dancing Plague: The Strange, True Story of an Extraordinary Illness

By John Waller

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"In the searing July heat of 1518, Frau Troffea stepped into the streets of Strasbourg and began to dance. Bathed in sweat, she continued to dance. Overcome with exhaustion, she stopped, and then resumed her solitary jig a few hours later. Over the next two months, roughly four hundred people succumbed to the same agonizing compulsion. At its peak, the epidemic claimed the lives of fifteen men, women, and children a day. Possibly 100 people danced to their deaths in one of the most bizarre and terrifying plagues in history.

"John Waller compellingly evokes the sights, sounds, and aromas; the diseases and hardships; the fervent supernaturalism and the desperate hedonism of the late medieval world. Based on new evidence, he explains why the plague occurred and how it came to an end... ."

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The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine

By Benjamin Wallace

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"It was the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. In 1985, a 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafite Bordeaux--one of a cache unearthed in a bricked-up Paris cellar and supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson--sold at auction for $156,000. The discoverer of the bottle was pop-band manager turned wine collector Hardy Rodenstock, who had a knack for finding extremely old and exquisite wines. But rumors soon arose. Why wouldn't Rodenstock reveal the exact location where it had been found? Was it part of a smuggled Nazi hoard? Or did his reticence conceal an even darker secret? Author Wallace also offers a history of wine, complete with vivid accounts of subterranean European laboratories where old vintages are dated and of Jefferson's colorful, wine-soaked days in France. This tale of what could be the most elaborate con since the Hitler diaries is also the debut of a new voice in narrative non-fiction."

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