12 best books by Emile Zola

Review of the best according to the editorial board. On the selection criteria. This material is subjective and does not constitute advertising and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

Emile Zola is the founder of naturalism in literature. He is an outstanding man of the nineteenth century. I tried myself in the genre of journalism and politics.

At 22, having moved to Paris after the death of his father, Emil is looking for a job. Material difficulties drive the writer, and he enters the service of the publishing house Hachette. Four years later, Zola leaves, but does not abandon attempts to connect life with literature.

In 1865, the author's first work, Claude's Confessions, was published. There is a buzz around the novel. Scandals are associated with the defense of Manet's painting. Three years later, Emil proceeds to the main business – he writes the Rougon-Maccara series.

The works tell about several generations of one family. The books are filled with detailed descriptions of life that takes place in small towns and villages. Here Zola raises a topic that was painful for French society at that time – the events of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. Although many other novels talk about society during the Second Empire, the time of Napoleon III. The works of the series are not linked by any chronological sequence.

The public greeted the first books coldly. Poverty pushes Zola to extreme steps – he puts a trap on the roof and catches sparrows. With tears in his eyes, he rolls up their necks and fries them, stringing them on a steel rod from the curtain. But with the release of the seventh book of the series, The Trap, the author gains the long-awaited fame, recognition, and at the same time wealth.

The experts offer a selection of 12 of Emile Zola's best must-read books.

Rating of the best books by Emile Zola

Nomination a place composition rating
Rating of the best books by Emile Zola 1 Women's happiness 5.0
2 Germinal 4.9
3 Nana 4.8
4 Teresa Raken 4.7
5 Trap 4.6
6 Rougonov's career 4.5
7 The belly of Paris 4.4
8 Love page 4.3
9 Creation 4.2
10 Mining 4.1
11 Money 4.0
12 Scale 3.9

Women's happiness

Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 5.0

Women's happiness

The eleventh book of the Rougon-Makkara series is a logical continuation of the novel Scum. It is not necessary to read the previous ones, Ladies' happiness will completely pass for a separate work. The narration formed the basis of five feature films, as well as series, the last of which was filmed in Italy in 2015.

Zola introduces the reader to Octave Mouret and Denise Baudu, the main characters. These people will meet and clash in a duel of interests. But which of them will prevail, or will both be defeated?

Unlike the greedy and unprincipled Octave, the owner of the Ladies Happiness store, Denise is an example of stamina, courage and decency. While one ruins small shops, forcing them to close due to the inability to compete, the other is absorbed in thoughts of how to put brothers – sixteen-year-old Jacques and five-year-old Pepo – on their feet.

The story of Denise is the story of a strong man, true to his principles, capable of self-sacrifice. You will think that she is too submissive, goes with the flow, resignedly accepts the blows of fate, silently takes away the ridicule of others. But Cinderella at all times were endowed with similar features.

The novel also tells about the confrontation between small shops and large shops, where the loser is known in advance. In those conditions, any attempt to survive and stay afloat is agony, even though the owners do not give up and continue to fight.

Ladies' happiness is not a classic love story, not a clash of two ways of thinking. The book literally shakes and awakens; makes you look at the familiar from a different angle. We advise all lovers of dramatic literature.


Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.9


Another novel from the Rougon-Maccara series was written in 1885. This is the thirteenth book in a row, and one of the best in the epic. Like other works, it contains many metaphors, a lot of detailed descriptions of historical places, characters of heroes. Germinal tells the truth about human nature, about lower and higher motives: love and betrayal, generosity and greed, life and death.

Germinal is the spring month (March 21 – April 19) according to the calendar of the French Revolution. The name germinal is derived from the Latin germen, which means sprout. The book tells about the growth of a new social consciousness that rises from the depths of the earth. There, in the darkness, the miners are busy with hard work. Unsatisfied with the conditions, penny wages and the attitude of their superiors, they start to strike.

At the center of events is a young idealist, a former railway mechanic – Etienne Lantier. He was fired for a slap in the face, which he gave to one of the higher in the service. By the will of fate, the hero becomes the leader of the striking diggers. After reading many books, he gets his sight and speaks out against class inequality. But it is not good intentions that govern them – Etienne himself dreams of becoming one of those bourgeois he is fighting against.

Zola shows the inside of the hard work of the diggers. The rich do not care how and on what the workers live. Readers will have to find out how the strike will end up? What reprisals await the rioters? How long can humans stay underground?

The book will definitely interest Zola fans and others. Nowadays, it is no less relevant, and the topics raised in it touch to the core.


Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.8

Nana Emile Zola

The work is part of the Rougon-Makkara cycle. The novel was published in 1880. Here Zola reflects on morality, about the state in which she found herself at that time in France. Nana, the main character, a courtesan who entertains those in power. It was she who became the personification of the moral decline of society.

After its publication, the book received a lot of criticism for savoring the author's obscenities. But Emil responded calmly and confidently to the attacks: The bourgeoisie is the way I paint it in my novels; if there is a lot of dirt in my writings, it is because there is just as much of it in life.

All that nature gave to Nana is beauty and sexuality. Low-grade actress Anna Coupeau has always been greedy for money and amusement. When she got the chance to become a kept woman and lead a carefree lifestyle, she, without hesitation, grabbed him. Subsequently, the heroine will become a skillful manipulator, destroying families and breaking destinies.

The action takes place during the reign of Napoleon III, whom, by the way, Zola could not stand. Throughout the novel, the author tells about the vicissitudes of life, lovers and mistresses, the house and the dog, Nana's endless extravagance. He speaks in simple and understandable language about the base desires of the local bourgeoisie; about perversions and vices, when a lover is ready to crawl on all fours, depicting a bear; about threesome marriages and casual sex.

The book is not as straightforward as it seems. The reader has to find out who the main character really was – a victim of circumstances or a cold-blooded temptress who will stop at nothing in her attempts to obtain material benefits. Zola gives a subjective assessment of Nana's behavior – do you agree with her?

Teresa Raken

Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.7

Teresa Raken

In the preface to the novel, the author wrote: I stopped at individuals who are completely subject to their verses and the voice of blood, are deprived of the ability to freely exercise their will and whose every act is conditioned by the fatal power of their flesh. The work reveals the motives of people's actions and the deepest passions of the human soul.

The book tells the story of a young woman orphaned as a child who is forced to live in marriage with a cousin. At one point in the fate of Teresa, a turning point will occur – a meeting with the mercantile Laurent will tear the heroine out of the usual sequence of events. Now the lovers are devising a creepy plan to obtain their eternal happiness.

Teresa Raquin appears before the reader as a humble girl who resignedly accepts fate. The life of the heroine is filled with boredom and gray colors, until at some point blind love appears.

Teresa grew up with an overly caring aunt – Mrs. Raken and her weak-willed son – Camille. Laurent, an unsuccessful artist, was in perpetual search for easy money and was his friend. After meeting, passion absorbs both. Laurent and Teresa decide to kill Camille in order to take over the finances and live together. But none of them guess what kind of retribution awaits at the end.

The work makes you empathize, let situations pass through yourself, and experience what the characters feel. The novel is worthy of reading and is recommended to all fans of tragic and dramatic literature.


Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.6


Published in 1877, the book is dedicated to the working class. In it, Zola illustrates the life of ordinary people on the brink of existence; shows their way of life and customs. At the center of the story is a laundress and a roofer. They work for mere pennies and look more like slaves than free citizens of their country. The author shows how people driven by poverty are capable of committing a crime.

It is after the release of the novel The Trap that the author gains fame. Readers of that time were struck by the veracity of the description of the everyday life of the poor. Zola knew what he was talking about, because he himself went a similar path. Realism is the main and strongest aspect of the work.

The washerwoman's husband constantly disappears in the tavern Trap, but the inhabitants of the city's suburbs do not even suspect that they themselves have fallen into a trap from which it is almost impossible to get out.

Gervaise, left alone with the child, after the young man exchanged her for his mistress, goes to work in the laundry. After a while, she meets a kind and hardworking man – Coupeau, with whom she connects life. Gervaise starts his own business, which is developing successfully. Everything was fine until the freeloader Lantier appeared on the horizon again. Constant drinks, arranged by him, drag the family to the bottom.

Adultery, domestic violence, and laziness flourish and grow stronger. For ten years, Gervaise turns into insignificance, loses his human appearance. Every year the heroes are more and more susceptible to decomposition, they drink away the last that is left in the house.

The novel is hard to read. The reviews write that after him there is a desire to take a shower, so realistically Zola reflects the life of the poor and the decline in morals. We recommend the book to not particularly impressionable people who are ready for an unpleasant aftertaste.

Rougonov's career

Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.5

Rougonov's career

The first work from the Rougon-Maccara cycle tells about the social history of one family. The action takes place on the eve of the war with Prussia, in the era of the Second Empire. In it, the author tells about two young idealists – Silver and his friend Miette, about their revolutionary passion, purity of impulses. The heroes are opposed by people who are concerned only with how to sell themselves more expensively, going over to the side of those who will be more generous.

From this novel, the reader learns how the history of the family began. Events take place in a town called Plassan. The ancestor of the family – Adelaide Fook, a stupid woman, lives on an estate, which she inherited from her deceased husband. She does whatever comes into her head. The Rugona branch is her child from legal marriage, son Pierre, and the Maccara branch is the illegitimate, daughter of Ursula and son of Antoine. Their father is a smuggler and a scoundrel.

Adelaide herself was not distinguished by nobility. She did not give the necessary attention to the children, she was only interested in herself and her desires. The sons who grew up in such conditions became insidious and unprincipled. In any situation, they tried to snatch their mouth-watering piece of the pie. Pierre had more mental capacity for this than Antoine. But despite the developed intellect, Pierre's dreams did not come true, and only in old age does he and his wife get a chance to realize what they have long wanted.

It's amazing how such a kind and pure-minded person, Pascal, could appear in such a family. His father, Pierre, tried to draw his son into a cohort of conspirators, but the hero's attitude towards them was unambiguous – Pascal compared these people to animals.

The book will certainly interest history buffs. In it, Zola, in addition to fiction, gives rather detailed descriptions of the political events of that time.

The belly of Paris

Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.4

The belly of Paris

Rougon-Maccara's twenty-volume epic, although it allowed the author to gain fame, did not overshadow other novels, including the Womb of Paris. The work was published in 1873 and has been translated into many languages. Zola tells about the fate of a single little person who is literally able to get lost on the streets of a big city.

Now the Womb of Paris is a square not far from the Louvre, where a square with underground shops, cafes, and a cinema is laid out. But at the time of Zola, this name was given to the central Parisian market. You could get anything here at any time of the day. Around were the famous courtyards of miracles – brothels, the very bottom of the city. Everything was bought and sold here, and morality meant nothing.

Florent wanders among well-fed and pompous people, not understanding them, as they do not understand him. This leads to a conflict between the little man and the local society. The hero wants to change something in life, therefore he takes a position against any violence. Florent stands at the head of the revolutionary-minded people. Will he be able to promote ideas further to the people and turn the tide of events without sacrificing his humanistic principles?

We recommend the book to those who love deep reading. A clash of two worldviews awaits you on the pages of the novel. The reader will have to find out whether a person is able to withstand the whole society and win the battle, remaining a person.

Love page

Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.3

Love page

Against the background of the books Trap and Nana, this work appears as a lyrical intermezzo, where the theme of love, inexplicable and enticing, like a thunderbolt, dominates, and the theme of Paris, which the heroine sees in the haze, like a restless ocean from the rooftops. Even the idyllic corner where the beautiful Helene took refuge with her daughter Jeanne is not able to protect one from fatal passions. The sweet peace of ignorance will inevitably be disturbed.

Helene lives next door to a doctor – Henri Deberl. She is very young, not yet thirty, but already a widow. One day, a daughter, twelve-year-old Jeanne, falls ill. Doctor Deberl begins to visit Helene's home more and more often, until both realize that the visits are not just a business one. Suddenly flared up feelings could make these two happy, albeit after overcoming obstacles, for example, in the person of his wife Anri. But chance interferes with the interweaving of destinies. Jeanne cannot accept that someone else comes between her and her mother. She does everything to prevent rapprochement. Constant tantrums, scandals and inadequate reactions to seemingly ordinary situations lead to an unexpected ending.

In the novel, the reader will see Zola different from all other books. Here he does not put an acute social problem at the forefront, does not show the true drama, familiar to fans of naturalism and bright characters. The work seems to be written in muted tones, and the words in it are a slight swell. The intimacy is expressed in a small number of characters and decorations.

The pages are full of descriptions of Paris. Every sentence shows the author's genuine love. The city appears in four seasons: it is green, full of flowers, pushing people to joy; it is gloomy and dull, flooded with rainwater, that flows in waterfalls along the stairwells, and turns the sidewalks into swamps of mud; then sleepy and pensive, covered with a blanket of snow; it is filled with spring birdsong and the rays of the not yet warming sun.

The work will appeal to people who prefer a calm and measured story.


Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.2


Zola was a friend and ardent defender of outcast Impressionist painters – Manet, Cezanne and others. In the book, he talks about three comrades who have been friends since college. The novelist Sandoz, the painter Claude and the architect Dubuche work day and night, forgetting about food and sleep. They dream of a new art, but each presents it in his own way. Will they be able to realize their ideas, achieve career advancement and find happiness in love? Will you be able to rise above the imperfection of the world and what price will the heroes pay for success?

The next book of the Rougon-Maccara cycle tells about Claude Lantier, the son of a washerwoman, and all the creative people who are part of his circle of communication. These personalities live in their own world, incomprehensible to people remote from art. Sculptors, writers, painters – everyone needs to be accepted by those around them for who they are and not to try to change their views.

On the path of life, Claude meets Christina. This couple seems to be perfect as long as they live in the suburbs, surrounding each other with care and love. But Paris beckons Claude, never for a second leaves his thoughts. Only there he feels inspiration and is able to create. The hero does not think that art does not bring either glory or material benefits. He does not care if the family is full, whether it needs something.

After the birth of her son, Christina does not find happiness in motherhood. She is fighting with even greater zeal against her main rival – painting. What promises spouses such an irresponsible attitude? Will they find the strength to prioritize correctly or ruin the marriage?

The ending of the book is unpredictable. In the reviews, there are often discussions on the topic of the novel Creativity. Some understand what is happening and find arguments for it, while others do not accept or approve of the actions of the heroes. Read the work to understand which side you are on.


Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.1


Another book from the Rougon-Maccara series tells the story of an adventurer and stock player – Aristide Saccard, who makes money from everything that comes at hand. His wife is also the main character: the young lady adores luxury, she is licentious and does not know the measure, which ultimately leads to a crime.

How many times has the author raised a topical topic of human vices and, first of all, greed. Heroes are petty, and many have long lost their humanity, but they are alive and real. The righteous aren't the only ones who deserve the roles of iconic characters. The life stories of these people are catchy and do not allow you to put the book aside for a break. Speculation, fraud, wives and children, like bargaining chips – that's what Zola talks about on the pages of the work. Here predators go hunting: some for money, others who do not need material benefits – for emotions.

The novel is written in excellent language, which the author skillfully spoke, but some readers did not like the multiple descriptions, sometimes seeming meaningless and unnecessary. In our opinion, displaying the scenery creates the right atmosphere. The scenes with Paris are amazing. Dinner parties, outfits of the local public, ladies in bustles, hats, hairpins, jewelry; stucco moldings on the ceilings, lamps, exquisite dishes on the tables – all this brings to France of those years.

The book contains many interesting points related to economic activity. We advise people who are educated in this specialty to read it. Some find significantly more in the Prey than in Theodore Dreiser the Financier.


Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 4.0


The novel is a chronological continuation of the previous one. On the pages, the reader sees the already familiar Sakkar, who, having got out of the next financial catastrophe, finds himself in a new cover. Even without a penny in his pocket, he manages to open a business that brings in millions, be it a bank, a silver mining enterprise or an international shipping company.

The world of financial businessmen is depicted with unprecedented accuracy, which captivates lovers of such literature. The reader will have to live four years of life with Aristide, to go from dizzying success to a crushing fall.

Saccard will remind many of Sergei Mavrodi, who in the 90s organized the MMM financial pyramid, which ruined many people. The main character will open up not so much as a fraud, but as a keen person who sees the world with his own special look. Aristide's talent is organizational skills. He inspires people by presenting something to them, makes them trust. Thanks to such skills, Sakkar will go far with fraudulent plans. But his excessive self-importance, unshakable confidence, neglect of risks will lead to a disastrous ending.

We recommend the novel to anyone interested in economics and finance. Zola twists a dynamic plot, raises urgent problems, colorfully describes the Parisian slums with their filth, filth and immorality, and the background to everything is money.


Book author: Emil Zola

Rating: 3.9


The novel precedes the book Ladies' Happiness, despite this, both works have a separate plot. The author again shows the reader the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, which has turned private and public life into a veritable comedy of hypocrisy.

At the center of events is the young Octave Mouret, who came to conquer Paris. He is charming, handsome, has a talent for commerce and a rich imagination. The hero dreams of running a successful business and subsequently conquering the world, but so far he works as a salesman in the Ladies' Happiness store, who has not yet become a monopolist dictating his own rules.

Octave plans to achieve heights in his career with the help of female patronage. He rushes to conquer everyone he meets on the way, but everything does not work out as we would like.

On the advice of a familiar architect, the hero rents an apartment in a respectable house. At first he is oppressed by the decency and boredom that flows within these walls. But already in the first week, Octave begins to see the secrets of the local inhabitants hidden behind the doors. Masks fall off one by one. So much is hidden under the roof of this seemingly decent dwelling. Here everyone slept with everyone, fought over a dowry or inheritance. Even the death of a loved one is a field for extortion and attempts to play on other people's feelings for their own benefit.

The reader has to find out whether Octave Mouret will find his place and whether he will be able to make his dream come true – to conquer the luxurious capital of France? And if so, will he like this Paris?

Attention! This rating is subjective and does not constitute an advertisement and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

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