A Bite-Sized History of France

Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment

A French cheesemonger and an American academic and ex-pat join forces to serve up a sumptuous history of France and its food, in the delicious tradition of Anthony Bourdain, Peter Mayle, and Pamela Druckerman

“How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 varieties of cheese?” —Charles de Gaulle

From the cassoulet that won a war to the crêpe that doomed Napoleon, from the rebellions sparked by bread and salt to the new cuisines forged by empire, the history of France is intimately entwined with its gastronomic pursuits. A witty exploration of the facts and legends surrounding some of the most popular French foods and wines by a French cheesemonger and an American academic, A Bite-Sized History of France tells the compelling and often surprising story of France from the Roman era to modern times. Traversing the cuisines of France’s most famous cities as well as its underexplored regions, this innovative social history explores the impact of war and imperialism, the age-old tension between tradition and innovation, and the enduring use of food to prop up social and political identities.

The origins of the most legendary French foods and wines—from Roquefort and cognac to croissants and Calvados, from absinthe and oysters to Camembert and champagne—also reveal the social and political trends that propelled France’s rise upon the world stage. They help explain France’s dark history of war and conquest, as well as its most enlightened cultural achievements and the political and scientific innovations that transformed human history. These gastronomic tales will edify even the most seasoned lovers of food, history, and all things French.


“A husband and wife—he is French; she, American—move briskly through the history of France with a picnic basket full of information about the connections between history and gastronomy. . . . A genial journey through history that will leave readers both satiated and ravenous.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Who would have guessed forks had so much to do with bayonets? From the introduction of wine to Gaul by the Romans to Napoleon’s pancake predictions before entering Russia, the strange dialectics of war and peas offer a fascinating means of exploring the origins of French culinary traditions. Funny and historically accurate, this delicious book will make you want to raid the fridge.”
—Jean Lopez, founder and editor-in-chief, Guerres & Histoire
“Have the French ever done anything that wasn’t motivated, one way or another, by their search for good food? It seems not, and I can’t imagine a more fascinating or titillating angle to explore the history of France than this wonderful book.”
—Clotilde Dusoulier, author of Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat like a Local
“A very cool book about the intersections of food and history.”
—Michael Pollan, New York Times bestselling author of How to Change Your Mind and The Omnivore’s Dilemma
“Pack this one if you’re going abroad—or if you’re simply hungry. The authors use food and wine as a way to trace French history from ancient times through today.”
“There is so much delicious information about French food, history, and culture here that you’ll be tempted to polish off the feast in great gulps. Don’t! As is true with remarkable dishes, superb wines, and excellent storytelling, you’ll reap the greatest pleasure if you follow the authors’ lead and savor this book in bite-sized morsels, the better to enjoy every bit.”
—Dorie Greenspan, “On Dessert” columnist for the New York Times Magazine, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of Around My French Table and Dorie’s Cookies
“From the delights of French chocolate (through Portuguese Jews of Bayonne) to France’s passion for plums (brought home by the Templars from Damascus), A Bite-Sized History of France offers satisfaction for all: tastes of history from the people who gave perhaps the world’s greatest cuisine to the whole world. Why travel with a guide book on dry history, architecture, or politics when you can sink your teeth into such a delicious feast?”
—Juliette Rossant, author of Super Chef
“In this Franco-American couple’s not-so-bite-sized history, the complex political, historical, religious and social factors that shaped some of the country’s most iconic dishes and culinary products are explored in a way that will make you rethink every sprinkling of fleur de sel.”
—Christine Muhlke, The New York Times Book Review
“This impressive book intertwines tales of gastronomy, culture, war, and revolution . . . with brisk wit [and] imagination.”
The Christian Science Monitor
“A fascinating history of France through food [that is] exceptionally well-researched. This culinary history is a treat for Francophiles.”
Publishers Weekly

News and Reviews

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Stéphane Hénaut and Jeni Mitchell

Christian Science Monitor

[A] new and impressive book that intertwines stories of gastronomy, culture, war, and revolution. . . It’s a roller coaster ride, and when you’re done you’ll wish you could come back for more.


A “Best Books of Summer” pick

Christian Science Monitor

A “10 Best Books of July” pick