The best books about Prague and its hidden histories

Who am I?

Prague has fascinated me my whole life. I first explored the city while an English teacher in the Czech Republic in 1993, shortly after the end of Communist rule there. I’ve been wandering Prague’s streets ever since, always seeing something new and intriguing, always stumbling upon stories about the city and its people. Below are some of my favorite books about a city that continues to surprise me. The author or co-editor of four books, I teach European history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 


I wrote...

Prague: Belonging in the Modern City

By Chad Bryant,

Book cover of Prague: Belonging in the Modern City

What is my book about?

My book is a history of Prague, one of Europe’s great cities, as told from the point of view of five “outsiders”: an aspiring guidebook writer, a German-speaking newspaperman, a Bolshevik carpenter, an actress of mixed heritage who came of age during the Communist terror, and a Czech-speaking Vietnamese blogger. None of them is famous, but their lives are revealing. In addition to providing unique perspectives on the city’s past, they challenge us to ask some deceptively simple questions. How have people created for themselves a sense of belonging in the face of discrimination and political persecution? What does it mean to belong somewhere, and what might the search for belonging tell us about city life and our modern world? 

The books I picked & why

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Prague Panoramas: National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century

By Cynthia Paces,

Book cover of Prague Panoramas: National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century

Why this book?

For years, I used to walk past the statues of St. Wenceslaus, František Palacký, and other Czech national heroes without giving them much thought. After reading this book, I came to appreciate how much Prague’s monuments can tell us about the city’s history. Their creators offered a variety of interpretations over the meaning of “Czechness”, and these monuments have inspired passionate debates about nationhood and religion ever since. The book also made me think about ways that monuments can exclude others and inspire hatred, and not just in Prague. Consider, for example, statues celebrating the Confederacy erected by white supremacists decades after the end of the Civil War. Many still dot my part of the country.

Prague Panoramas: National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century

By Cynthia Paces,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prague Panoramas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Prague Panoramas examines the creation of Czech nationalism through monuments, buildings, festivals, and protests in the public spaces of the city during the twentieth century. These \u201csites of memory\u201d were attempts by civic, religious, cultural, and political forces to create a cohesive sense of self for a country and a people torn by war, foreign occupation, and internal strife.

The Czechs struggled to define their national identity throughout the modern era. Prague, the capital of a diverse area comprising Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Poles, Ruthenians, and Romany as well as various religious groups including Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, became central to…

Women of Prague: Ethnic Diversity and Social Change from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

By Wilma Abeles Iggers,

Book cover of Women of Prague: Ethnic Diversity and Social Change from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

Why this book?

Women rarely feature as central figures in most works about Prague. In this book, Iggers introduces us to an array of fascinating female writers, activists, powerful ladies of society, and survivors who have lived in Prague and its environs over the past two hundred years. Each chapter includes a brief introduction and excerpts from these women’s writings, such as diaries, letters, and newspaper articles. The reader can thus hear these women’s voices and feel transported to a different moment in history. Some entries are hard to read, such as Milada Horáková’s farewell letter to her teenage daughter, written on June 23, 1950. The lead defendant in Communist Czechoslovakia’s first public show trial, Horáková was executed three days later. Wilma Iggers is a Czechoslovak native who escaped to Canada after the Nazis invaded her country in 1938, which only enhances the perspectives that she brings to these women’s lives. 

Women of Prague: Ethnic Diversity and Social Change from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

By Wilma Abeles Iggers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women of Prague as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For many centuries Prague has exerted a particular fascination because of its beauty and therichness of its culture and history. Its famous group of German and Czech writers of mostly Jewish extraction in the earlier part of this century has deeply influenced Western culture.However, little attention has so far been paid to the roles of women in the history of thisethnically diverse area in around Prague. Based on largely autobiographical writings and letters by women and enhanced by extensive historical introduction, this book redresses a serious imbalance. The vivid and often moving portraits, which emerge from the varied material used…


A Boy's Journey: From Nazi-Occupied Prague to Freedom in America

By Peter J. Stein,

Book cover of A Boy's Journey: From Nazi-Occupied Prague to Freedom in America

Why this book?

I first met Peter here in Chapel Hill, and we became fast friends. A Holocaust survivor from Prague, Peter often spoke to my classes about his experiences. What made his talks so powerful was his ability to remember what it was like to be an eight-year-old boy living in a city under Nazi occupation, and to tell a story that is humbling, moving, and real. Never have I seen a speaker connect better with young people. Peter first became inspired to begin telling his story to students and others after confronting a Holocaust denier, and his many presentations laid the foundation for this book. Part history, part memoir, A Boy’s Journey is also a story about family and the need for tolerance and empathy in our world today. 

A Boy's Journey: From Nazi-Occupied Prague to Freedom in America

By Peter J. Stein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Boy's Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Peter J. Stein was a witness to history, a keeper of Holocaust memories and teller of its stories. He grew up the child of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father who was forced into slave labor and later disappeared. Nazi-occupied Prague was full of German soldiers everywhere and Peter’s loved ones vanished in mystery and secret. As a 12-year-old immigrant in America, he searched for a new identity that left his past behind.
But as Faulkner tells us, the past is never past. When, as a college professor, a group of students sought his help to challenge a Holocaust…

Spartakiads: The Politics of Physical Culture in Communist Czechoslovakia

By Petr Roubal, Daniel Morgan (translator),

Book cover of Spartakiads: The Politics of Physical Culture in Communist Czechoslovakia

Why this book?

Under Communism, two hundred thousand spectators gathered every five years to fill the largest concrete stadium in the world, Strahov Stadium, on a hill not far from Prague Castle. Why? To watch tens of thousands of their fellow countrymen perform synchronized gymnastics movements. Why? They were all taking part in a ritual, called the Spartakiad, which tells us much about Communist ideology as it evolved over time. For many participants and spectators, the Spartakiad was also an opportunity to visit their capital city and return with memories that were not part of the Communists’ ideological script. In Roubal’s telling, the Spartakiad also shows that Czechoslovak citizens were not simply cogs in a totalitarian machine. In 1960, for example, performers staying in Prague dormitories forced organizers to remove high-calorie butter cakes with cheese curd. They got beef goulash instead.

Spartakiads: The Politics of Physical Culture in Communist Czechoslovakia

By Petr Roubal, Daniel Morgan (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Every five years from 1955 to 1985, mass Czechoslovak gymnastic demonstrations and sporting parades called Spartakiads were held to mark the 1945 liberation of Czechoslovakia. Featuring hundreds of thousands of male and female performers of all ages and held in the world's largest stadium-a space built expressly for this purpose-the synchronized and unified movements of the Czech citizenry embodied, quite literally, the idealized Socialist people: a powerful yet pliant force directed by the regime.

In this book, Petr Roubal explores the political, social, and aesthetical dimensions of these mass physical demonstrations, with a particular focus on their roots in the…

Of Kids & Parents

By Emil Hakl, Marek Tomin (translator),

Book cover of Of Kids & Parents

Why this book?

I believe that I’ve read this short novel three times now. The story follows a son and his father as they walk through the outskirts of gritty, post-Communist Prague, chatting along the way. They, of course, stop at a few pubs as well. Narrated with wry humor and sympathy, their stroll reveals much about generational differences and efforts to remember troubling episodes from the past. Each man describes experiences that could only happen in this city. This novel inspired me to think long and hard about how walking can create a sense of place and belonging, and how walking is so often central to urban life. Most importantly, this book is a true joy to read. 

Of Kids & Parents

By Emil Hakl, Marek Tomin (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Of Kids & Parents as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Europe, taking a walk is a cultural phenomenon having an almost mystical import. It connects physical activity with meditation, inner silence with the outer tumult of the world. Taking its cue both from Joyce's Ulysses and Hrabal's freely associating stream of anecdote, Of Kids & Parents is about a father and son taking a walk through Prague, over the course of which, and in the pubs and bars they stop into, their personal lives are revealed as entwined with the past sixty years of upheaval in their corner of Europe. One's "small history" is shown to be inseparable from…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Prague, the Czech Republic, and Czechoslovakia?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Prague, the Czech Republic, and Czechoslovakia.

Prague Explore 19 books about Prague
The Czech Republic Explore 9 books about the Czech Republic
Czechoslovakia Explore 22 books about Czechoslovakia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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