The best books that capture the complexity of Poland and Polish history

Patrice M. Dabrowski Author Of Poland: The First Thousand Years
By Patrice M. Dabrowski

Who am I?

I am a Harvard-trained historian of Central and Eastern Europe who focuses primarily on Poland. Although I am of Polish descent, my interest in Polish history blossomed during my first visits to the country in the 1980s. My initial curiosity quickly turned into a passion for Poland’s rich and varied past. Poles, who put great stock in their history, seem to have liked my books: in 2014 I was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. The books on Poland listed below, all by outstanding female historians, only scratch the surface of what is truly a rich field. Enjoy!


I wrote...

Poland: The First Thousand Years

By Patrice M. Dabrowski,

Book cover of Poland: The First Thousand Years

What is my book about?

Poland: The First Thousand Years is a lively and accessible introduction to Polish history, presented from its medieval beginnings up to the present.

My book is a sweeping account designed to amplify major figures, moments, milestones, and turning points in Polish history. These include important battles and illustrious individuals, alliances forged by marriages and choices of religious denomination, and meditations on the likes of the Polish battle slogan "for our freedom and yours" that resounded during the Polish fight for independence in the long 19th century and echoed in the Solidarity period of the late 20th century.

The books I picked & why

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The Devil's Chain: Prostitution and Social Control in Partitioned Poland

By Keely Stauter-Halsted,

Book cover of The Devil's Chain: Prostitution and Social Control in Partitioned Poland

Why this book?

Who would have thought that late-nineteenth-century Poles’ preoccupation with the problem of prostitution could reveal so much about the Polish mindset? Concerns over the sex industry arose during a period of rapid change when there was no Polish state. Poles voiced their concerns about their nation’s future—and their womenfolk. A historian at the height of her powers, Keely Stauter-Halsted skillfully shows how debates on prostitution and an obsession with the bodies of impoverished women reflected a variety of visions of a future Poland.

If the Walls Could Speak: Inside a Women's Prison in Communist Poland

By Anna Müller,

Book cover of If the Walls Could Speak: Inside a Women's Prison in Communist Poland

Why this book?

This moving book gives insightful and humane treatment to a difficult, even taboo, subject: the cell life of female prisoners during the Stalinist period. Empathetic as well as eloquent, Anna Müller relies on numerous interviews as well as archival sources to piece together the world of the prison cell. While seemingly at the mercy of the guards and interrogation officers, back in their shared cell women prisoners are shown to seize upon what agency they had and actively shape their imprisoned existence. This is a book you won’t soon forget.

Colonial Fantasies, Imperial Realities: Race Science and the Making of Polishness on the Fringes of the German Empire, 1840-1920

By Lenny A. Ureña Valerio,

Book cover of Colonial Fantasies, Imperial Realities: Race Science and the Making of Polishness on the Fringes of the German Empire, 1840-1920

Why this book?

While there are many treatments of the Polish-German borderlands, this pioneering work integrates borderlands and colonial history. Here medicine, migration, and colonization intersect in interesting ways. Among other things, it is striking to see how the colonized Poles, finding themselves in between the Germans and the native populations, also sought to be colonizers overseas. This is a shining example of transnational history.

On Civilization's Edge: A Polish Borderland in the Interwar World

By Kathryn Ciancia,

Book cover of On Civilization's Edge: A Polish Borderland in the Interwar World

Why this book?

From mud and muck to modernity? This elegant examination of the margins of interwar Poland sheds much light on the ins and outs of belonging as well as broader Polish ambitions of being considered part of the civilized world. While Kathryn Ciancia focuses on the push to modernize the ethnically complex eastern borderland that was the province of Volhynia, inhabited by Jews and Ukrainians as well as Poles, she also importantly situates Poland within a global framework.

King Sigismund of Poland and Martin Luther: The Reformation Before Confessionalization

By Natalia Nowakowska,

Book cover of King Sigismund of Poland and Martin Luther: The Reformation Before Confessionalization

Why this book?

Poles have long prided themselves on having been tolerant of religious differences, this toleration dating from the deep historical past. In this pathbreaking and provocative work, Natalia Nowakowska challenges such interpretations of King Sigismund’s relationship to Protestants and Protestantism. Exquisitely argued, the book is an absolute tour de force, one that sheds new light on the period of the early Reformation.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Poland, church and state, and anti-communism?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Poland, church and state, and anti-communism.

Poland Explore 76 books about Poland
Church And State Explore 9 books about church and state
Anti-Communism Explore 7 books about anti-communism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland, The Polish Catholic Church Under German Occupation: The Reichsgau Wartheland, 1939-1945, and God's Playground: A History of Poland: The Origins to 1795, Vol. 1 if you like this list.