The best books about art and culture during World War II

Who am I?

My interest in this topic began because of a trip to a museum in 2008. I noticed that a painting had been removed from view and a small piece of paper was hanging on the wall where the painting had been. The paper explained that this piece was involved in a court case revolving around whether or not it had been stolen from its Jewish owner by the Nazis during World War II. Nazi cultural appropriation, looting, suppression, and destruction turned out to be one of the most fascinating stories of the entire war. The research for my historical novel took several years, but it allowed me to write a book based on the facts.


I wrote...

The Altarpiece

By Lauren Fogle Boyd,

Book cover of The Altarpiece

What is my book about?

In the suffocating atmosphere of the Third Reich, art becomes a political issue. When the renowned modern artist Dietrich Junger is condemned by Hitler's puritanical artistic purge, his daughter Anke finds herself abandoned by the two men she loved most. An expert on the object of Nazi obsession, the medieval Ghent Altarpiece, Anke must walk a tightrope between her desire to rebel and her instinct to survive. 

Erik Brossler, a young Jewish art historian, was Anke’s childhood sweetheart who escaped to America. He is haunted by their separation and the imminent danger to Europe's priceless art. When America enters the war, Erik's new journey takes him into the heart of the inferno as he searches for art and the great love of his life. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War

Lauren Fogle Boyd Why did I love this book?

This is the go-to book for the Nazi art looting story on the non-fiction side. After I saw the film documentary that accompanies this book, I quickly read it and it got me started on my path to writing my own book. I also use The Rape of Europa as my class text for my college course: “Art and the Nazis.” Lynn Nicholas did an impressive amount of research and devotes chapters to the Nazi art looting in Poland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy. She also discusses The Monuments Men (US and British officers who attempted to find and save Europe’s cultural items during WWII) but I think that subject is better handled by other books on this list!

By Lynn H. Nicholas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rape of Europa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the Nazi occupation of Poland, France and the Low Countries, and finally Italy, began a colossal wave of organised and casual pillaging stripped entire countries of their cultural heritage. From the day Hitler came to power, art was a matter of the highest priority to the Reich. He and other Nazis were ravenous collectors, stopping at nothing to acquire paintings and sculpture. Nicholas catalogues this theft and destruction but also shows how the dedicated corps of `Museum Officers', brought to Europe after the Allied victory, spent six years locating and sorting huge repositories of treasure and restoring their contents…


Book cover of The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

Lauren Fogle Boyd Why did I love this book?

Robert Edsel became fascinated by the story of art looting and preservation during WWII after living for a period in Florence. Being a wealthy businessman from Texas, he used his money to bring attention to the story of the men and women who fought to preserve art during WWII. He has written four books on the subject, but The Monuments Men is the most well-rounded and suitable for someone who is beginning to investigate this riveting slice of history. His book was made into a movie starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, and Matt Damon in 2014. 

By Robert M. Edsel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Monuments Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major film starring GEORGE CLOONEY, MATT DAMON, CATE BLANCHETT, BILL MURRAY, JOHN GOODMAN, HUGH BONNEVILLE, BOB BALABAN, JEAN DUJARDIN and DIMITRI LEONIDAS.
What if I told you that there was an epic story about World War II that has not been told, involving the most unlikely group of heroes?
What if I told you there was a group of men on the front lines who didn't carry machine guns or drive tanks; a new kind of soldier, one charged with saving, not destroying.
From caves to castles in a thrilling race against time, these men risked their lives…


Book cover of The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany

Lauren Fogle Boyd Why did I love this book?

The Faustian Bargain is all about the art world inside Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Petropoulos chronicles the artists, art dealers, art professors, art journalists, and many others who were forced to live under Hitler’s cultural rules, which forbade modernist art of any kind. Some profited from this arrangement, others subtly fought against it. This is an inside look at a culture choked and suppressed by its own leadership.

By Jonathan Petropoulos,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Faustian Bargain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nazi art looting has been the subject of enormous international attention in recent years, and the topic of two history bestsellers, Hector Feliciano's The Lost Museum and Lynn Nicholas's The Rape of Europa. But such books leave us wondering: What made thoughtful, educated, artistic men and women decide to put their talents in the service of a brutal and inhuman regime? This question is the starting point for The Faustian Bargain, Jonathan
Petropoulos's study of the key figures in the art world of Nazi Germany.
Petropoulos follows the careers of these prominent individuals who like Faust, that German archetype, chose…


Book cover of The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Monuments Officers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II

Lauren Fogle Boyd Why did I love this book?

Dagnini’s book focuses specifically on Italy and the amazing stories of Rome, Naples, Florence, and Pisa among others. If you love Italian art and architecture, you will not be able to put this book down. Descriptions of the damage, but also how it was fixed and avoided in some cases, are truly inspiring. Without these Allied personnel, so much more could have been lost.

By Ilaria Dagnini Brey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Venus Fixers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1943, while the world was convulsed by war, a few visionaries -- in the private sector and in the military -- committed to protect Europe's cultural heritage from the indiscriminate ravages of World War II.

In the midst of the conflict, the Allied Forces appointed the monuments officers―a motley group of art historians, curators, architects, and artists―to ensure that the great masterworks of European art and architecture were not looted or bombed into oblivion. The journalist Ilaria Dagnini Brey focuses her spellbinding account on the monuments officers of Italy, quickly dubbed "the Venus Fixers" by bemused troops.

Working on…


Book cover of Stealing the Mystic Lamb

Lauren Fogle Boyd Why did I love this book?

Noah Charney is an art historian and has written several interesting books that I have read. Even though this book, Stealing the Mystic Lamb, came out too late for my novel, the “altarpiece” of my book is in fact the “Mystic Lamb” otherwise known as the Ghent Altarpiece. My quasi-obsession with this monumental piece of art is matched by Charney and he describes how often it has been stolen and nearly destroyed. No other piece of art has had a history quite like this one. 

By Noah Charney,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Stealing the Mystic Lamb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece is on any art historian's list of the ten most important paintings ever made. It is also the most frequently stolen artwork of all time. Since its completion in 1432, this twelve-panel oil painting has been looted in three different wars, burned, dismembered, forged, smuggled, censored, hidden, attacked by iconoclasts, hunted by the Nazis and Napoleon, used as a diplomatic tool, ransomed, rescued by Austrian double-agents, and stolen a total of thirteen times. In this fast-paced, real-life thriller, art historian Noah Charney unravels the fascinating stories of each of these thefts. Charney also explores psychological…


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Cold Peace: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift, Part I

By Helena P. Schrader,

Book cover of Cold Peace: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift, Part I

Helena P. Schrader Author Of Cold Peace: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift, Part I

New book alert!

Who am I?

I first went to Berlin after college, determined to write a novel about the German Resistance; I stayed a quarter of a century. Initially, the Berlin Airlift, something remembered with pride and affection, helped create common ground between me as an American and the Berliners. Later, I was commissioned to write a book about the Airlift and studied the topic in depth. My research included interviews with many participants including Gail Halvorsen. These encounters with eyewitnesses inspired me to write my current three-part fiction project, Bridge to Tomorrow. With Russian aggression again threatening Europe, the story of the airlift that defeated Soviet state terrorism has never been more topical. 

Helena's book list on the Russian blockade of Berlin and the Allied Airlift

What is my book about?

It is 1948 in Berlin. The economy is broken, the currency worthless, and the Russian bear is preparing to swallow its next victim. In the ruins of Hitler's capital, former RAF officers and a woman pilot start an air ambulance company that offers a glimmer of hope. Yet when a Soviet fighter brings down a British airliner, Berlin becomes a flashpoint. The world teeters on the brink of World War Three.

Award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader tells the backstory of the Berlin Airlift in Cold Peace, the first book of the Bridge to Tomorrow series.

Cold Peace: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift, Part I

By Helena P. Schrader,


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Interested in art theft, Germany, and looting?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about art theft, Germany, and looting.

Art Theft Explore 43 books about art theft
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Looting Explore 15 books about looting