The best books on memory and postwar Europe

Peter J. Verovšek Author Of Memory and the Future of Europe: Rupture and Integration in the Wake of Total War
By Peter J. Verovšek

Who am I?

I am an international political and critical theorist interested in the way that key events and experiences from the past continue to affect politics in the present. I was born in the US but moved back to Slovenia when I was in high school, before returning to the states to attend Dartmouth College as an undergraduate, and Yale University for my doctoral studies in political science. This international, bi-continental background – as well as my own family’s history of migration following World War II – has fueled my interest in twentieth-century European history, collective memory and European integration. 

I wrote...

Memory and the Future of Europe: Rupture and Integration in the Wake of Total War

By Peter J. Verovšek,

Book cover of Memory and the Future of Europe: Rupture and Integration in the Wake of Total War

What is my book about?

The European Union represents the most significant development in twentieth-century political organization. Building on the philosophy of the Frankfurt School and first-person accounts, I treat integration as a response to the rupture created by the age of total war. However, despite its many achievements, the European project is increasingly under threat. As the generations with personal memories of the two world wars have passed away, economic gain has increasingly become the EU’s sole raison d’être. In order to survive, I argue that the EU must develop a new historical imaginary that builds on the expanded horizons of the generations that have grown up in the EU as well as on its ability to protect its citizens from the forces of globalization. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought

Why did I love this book?

Hannah Arendt is the most important political thinker of the post-totalitarian moment. While her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism is more well-known and became a bestseller again after the election of President Donald Trump, in this collection of essays she lays out her ideas about the way that the past helps us to locate ourselves in the present by imagining and reimagining our futures. This book was hugely influential for me during my graduate studies at Yale. Unlike so many political theorists, Arendt is also a wonderfully accessible and engaging writer.

By Hannah Arendt, Jerome Kohn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Between Past and Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Eichmann in Jerusalem and The Origins of Totalitarianism, “a book to think with through the political impasses and cultural confusions of our day” (Harper’s Magazine)
Hannah Arendt’s insightful observations of the modern world, based on a profound knowledge of the past, constitute an impassioned contribution to political philosophy. In Between Past and Future Arendt describes the perplexing crises modern society faces as a result of the loss of meaning of the traditional key words of politics: justice, reason, responsibility, virtue, and glory. Through a series of eight exercises, she shows how we can redistill the vital…

Book cover of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Why did I love this book?

The late Tony Judt was one of the best, most insightful, and engaging historians of postwar Europe. Unlike many other histories of this period, Postwar covers the whole continent on both sides of the iron curtain. This is a thick book, but a quick read. Judt sprinkles a lot of interesting anecdotes and asides into his narrative. He also does a great job of highlighting the political legacies of the memories of both world wars. The epilogue on “the past as a foreign country” is a wonderful introduction to the politics of memory in postwar Europe.

By Tony Judt,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Postwar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize * Winner of the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award * One of the New York Times' Ten Best Books of the Year

"Impressive . . . Mr. Judt writes with enormous authority." -The Wall Street Journal

"Magisterial . . . It is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive, authoritative, and yes, readable postwar history." -The Boston Globe

Almost a decade in the making, this much-anticipated grand history of postwar Europe from one of the world's most esteemed historians and intellectuals is a singular achievement. Postwar is the first modern history that covers…

The Past as Future

By Jurgen Habermas, Max Pensky (translator),

Book cover of The Past as Future

Why did I love this book?

In addition to being postwar Germany’s most important philosopher, Habermas is also its leading public intellectual. In this volume of his “short political writings” Habermas develops his ideas on a number of concrete issues in the memory politics of postwar Europe that emerged in the early 1990s – including conservative attempts to normalize the Holocaust, the effects of German unification, and the implications of the fall of communism for the EU – in an accessible manner through a series of interviews. This format also allows him to open up the question of the status of public intellectuals and their role in the democratic public sphere, which is the subject of my current book project on Habermas as a public intellectual.

By Jurgen Habermas, Max Pensky (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jurgen Habermas is one of the best-known and most influential philosophers in Europe today. Heir to the Frankfurt school, his reputation rests on more than thirty years of groundbreaking works on society knowledge, history, technology; ethics, and many other subjects. He is also a familiar figure in his native Germany where he has often played a prominent role in public de-bates. In recent years, he has spoken out ever more directly on the extraordinary changes taking place in Germany, Europe, and the world.

This volume of interviews reveals Habermas's passionate engagement with contemporary issues. Wide-ranging and informal, the interviews focus…

Book cover of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Why did I love this book?

Timothy Snyder is perhaps the leading active historian of Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Recently, he has also become a leading public intellectual highlighting the dangers of totalitarianism at the start of the twenty-first century. Much like Judt, Snyder seeks to redirect our attention away from western European history toward the East, where most of the killings occurred during the Holocaust, and where the people were subjected to renewed occupation by communism after 1945. Unlike many historians, he is not only keenly attuned to the power of memory, but also to the importance of political theory for historical thinking and vice versa. In particular, the conclusion highlights the extent to which Arendt’s work has shaped his thinking, which dovetails nicely with the first book on this list.

By Timothy Snyder,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Bloodlands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Americans call the Second World War "the Good War." But before it even began, America's ally Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens-and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war's end, German and Soviet killing sites fell behind the Iron Curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.
Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of…

The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe

By Richard Ned Lebow (editor), Wulf Kansteiner (editor), Claudio Fogu (editor)

Book cover of The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe

Why did I love this book?

Although this is my final recommendation, this book is where my interest in the topic of memory and the political, intellectual, and social development of postwar Europe began. As an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, I had the opportunity to assist my advisor, Ned Lebow, with the preparation of this volume. Following a short theoretical introduction to the paradigm of collective memory, this collection then presents chapters on the specific dynamics of the politics of remembrance in various European states written by local country specialists. This is both a great read and a great resource for further information on the dynamics of postwar memory across the continent.

By Richard Ned Lebow (editor), Wulf Kansteiner (editor), Claudio Fogu (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For sixty years, different groups in Europe have put forth interpretations of World War II and their respective countries' roles in it consistent with their own political and psychological needs. The conflict over the past has played out in diverse arenas, including film, memoirs, court cases, and textbooks. It has had profound implications for democratization and relations between neighboring countries. This collection provides a comparative case study of how memories of World War II have been constructed and revised in seven European nations: France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, and the USSR (Russia). The contributors include scholars of history, literature,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Europe, World War 2, and modernity?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Europe, World War 2, and modernity.

Europe Explore 832 books about Europe
World War 2 Explore 1,691 books about World War 2
Modernity Explore 41 books about modernity