The best books to get a sense of Berlin under the Nazis

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked as a journalist for the BBC for nearly thirty years: my writing of espionage novels set in Europe during the Second World War goes back to 1994 when I was covering the 50th anniversary of D-Day for the BBC. I became fascinated with the human stories behind big military events and especially the British deception operation that was so crucial to the Allies’ success. This led to my first novel, The Best of Our Spies. To ensure my novels feel as authentic as possible my research means I travel around Europe and I’ve also amassed a collection of maps and guidebooks from that period.


I wrote...

Agent in Berlin

By Alex Gerlis,

Book cover of Agent in Berlin

What is my book about?

Agent in Berlin is my ninth novel and the first book in my Wolf Pack trilogy. It features Barney Allen as a British spymaster tasked with establishing a new spy ring in Berlin. He recruits an effective but eclectic mix of agents - a habitué of Berlin’s gay underworld, an American sports journalist, the SS officer’s wife, a Japanese diplomat, and a senior Luftwaffe officer. These Wolf Pack spies unearth valuable intelligence, including details of a new Luftwaffe fighter plane and the Japanese plans to attack the US Pacific Fleet. But in Berlin, the menacing footsteps of the Gestapo are never far behind and they begin to catch up with the Wolf Pack with deadly consequences. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Berlin Diary, 1934-1941: The Rise of the Third Reich

Alex Gerlis Why did I love this book?

Berlin was at the centre of Nazi Europe and is invariably at the heart of my novels, including Agent in Berlin. I’m fascinated by Berlin and I try to get beyond the obvious aspects of the city and give a sense of what life was like on a daily basis.  I have chosen this book by William Shirer, an American journalist based in the city from 1934 and who only left after Pearl Harbor. The book combines the sharp observations of a journalist with an eye for fascinating detail, such as the nuanced wording of the death notices of soldiers and the impact of rationing on the population.

By William L. Shirer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Berlin Diary, 1934-1941 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Berlin Diary, 1934-1941 : The Rise of the Third Reich: As chief of Universal News Service's Berlin office and later a broadcaster for CBS, William L. Shirer witnessed and recorded the rise to international power of Hitler and the Nazis. This is Shirer's diary of events between 1934 and 1941.


Book cover of The Last Jews in Berlin

Alex Gerlis Why did I love this book?

When the Nazis came to power in 1933 the Jewish population of Berlin was 160,000. By the start of the war, it had fallen to 80,000 due to people emigrating. By late 1943 almost the entire Jewish population of Berlin had been deported to the death camps, but around 4,000 remained in the city, living in hiding, with false identities, underground, and in constant fear. This book was first published in 1982 and is a remarkable account of how some of these people survived (though the majority of those who went underground were eventually caught and murdered).  The book reads like a thriller and is also a tribute to the many non-Jews who risked their lives to help save those of others.

By Leonard Gross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Jews in Berlin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In February 1943, four thousand Jews went underground in Berlin. By the end of the war, all but a few hundred of them had died in bombing raids or, more commonly, in death camps. This is the real-life story of some of the few of them - a young mother, a scholar and his countess lover, a black-market jeweler, a fashion designer, a Zionist, an opera-loving merchant, a teen-age orphan - who resourcefully, boldly, defiantly, luckily survived. In hiding or in masquerade, by their wits and sometimes with the aid of conscience-stricken German gentiles, they survived. They survived the constant…


Book cover of Alone in Berlin

Alex Gerlis Why did I love this book?

This book was originally published (in German) in 1947, shortly before the death of the author. Fallada was a well-known German writer and an anti-Nazi who somehow survived the war in Berlin, despite being imprisoned during it. This is a work of fiction, though one based on the true story of a working-class couple in Berlin who begin a campaign of low-level resistance against the Nazi regime after hearing of the death of their only son while fighting in France.  The book gives a real sense of Berlin at war and of the lives of ordinary people during it.  The writing style is quite unusual – large sections are in the present tense – but that helps to convey the atmosphere of Berlin during the war.

By Hans Fallada,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Alone in Berlin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A gripping portrait of life in wartime Berlin and a vividly theatrical study of how paranoia can warp a society gripped by the fear of the night-time knock on the door.

Based on true events, Hans Fallada's Alone In Berlin follows a quietly courageous couple, Otto and Anna Quangel who, in dealing with their own heartbreak, stand up to the brutal reality of the Nazi regime. With the smallest of acts, they defy Hitler's rule with extraordinary bravery, facing the gravest of consequences.

Translated and Adapted by Alistair Beaton (Feelgood, The Trial Of Tony Blair), this timely story of the…


Book cover of Berlin: The Downfall 1945

Alex Gerlis Why did I love this book?

Antony Beevor is arguably our pre-eminent military historian and like another of his books, Stalingrad, this is the gripping story of one of the key battles of the Second World War, that of the Red Army capturing Berlin. Beevor manages to avoid excessive military detail but does include enough to provide a detailed account of Marshal Zhukov’s skilled capture of the Nazi capital. At the same time, the book provides an insight into the drama of Berlin in its last days under the Nazis and also describes the horrors which occurred as the Red Army wreaked its revenge once it had captured the city.

By Antony Beevor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Storming of Berlin had been the Red Army's dream of vengeance, ever since the German's invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941. Antony Beevor has reconstituted the experience of those millions caught up in the nightmare crescendo of the Third Reich's final defeat.


Book cover of Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler's Capital, 1939-45

Alex Gerlis Why did I love this book?

This is another book that manages to paint a picture of what life was like in Berlin during the war.  Roger Moorhouse tells some fascinating stories, such as that of Paul Ogorzow, the so-called S-Bahn Murderer. The fact that a serial killer was operating around Berlin’s railway system was a dilemma for the authorities who tried and failed to lay the blame on either Jews or Poles. Ogorzow was eventually captured convicted of the murder of eight women and of attacking thirty-seven more during 1940 and 1941. The fact he was a Nazi Party member was a deep embarrassment and didn’t help him: he was executed just days after his conviction.

By Roger Moorhouse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Berlin was the nerve-centre of Hitler's Germany - the backdrop for the most lavish ceremonies, it was also the venue for Albert Speer's plans to forge a new 'world metropolis' and the scene of the final climactic bid to defeat Nazism. Yet while our understanding of the Holocaust is well developed, we know little about everyday life in Nazi Germany.

In this vivid and important study Roger Moorhouse portrays the German experience of the Second World War, not through an examination of grand politics, but from the viewpoint of the capital's streets and homes.He gives a flavour of life in…


You might also like...

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

Book cover of Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

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

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

Stopping Russian Aggression with milk, coal, and candy bars….

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians will starve unless they receive food, medicine, and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour, and children’s shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in the West. Until General Winter deploys on the side of Russia...

Based on historical events, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader delivers an…

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

What is this book about?

Fighting a war with milk, coal and candy bars....

In the second book of the Bridge to Tomorrow Series, the story continues where "Cold Peace" left off.

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians in Hitler's former capital will starve unless they receive food, medicine and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour and children's shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Berlin, Germany, and Nazism?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Berlin, Germany, and Nazism.

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