The best books about art and culture during World War II

Lauren Fogle Boyd Author Of The Altarpiece
By Lauren Fogle Boyd

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. 

The books I picked & why

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

By Lynn H. Nicholas,

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

Why 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!

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

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.


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

By Robert M. Edsel,

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

Why 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. 

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

By Robert M. Edsel,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…


The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany

By Jonathan Petropoulos,

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

Why 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.

The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany

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…

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

By Ilaria Dagnini Brey,

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

Why 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.

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

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.


Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece

By Noah Charney,

Book cover of Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece

Why 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. 

Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece

By Noah Charney,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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. Often referred to by the subject of its central panel, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, it represents the fulcrum between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. 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, illegally sold, censored, hidden, attacked by iconoclasts, hunted by the Nazis and Napoleon, used as a diplomatic tool, ransomed, rescued by Austrian double-agents,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in art theft, World War 2, and Germany?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about art theft, World War 2, and Germany.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany, Totalitarian Art, and Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany if you like this list.