The best books about Belgium

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Belgium and why they recommend each book.

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Resistance

By Anita Shreve,

Book cover of Resistance

I love Anita Shreve’s writing style, which is spare and yet conveys so much emotion. Resistance is set during World War 2 in occupied Belgium and tells the story of a downed US air force pilot who is found by a young boy, the son of a Nazi collaborator, before being taken in by a couple who hides him in the attic before he can be discovered by the Germans. This atmospheric story is about love and betrayal, but so powerfully portrays the atrocities of war. 


Who am I?

As a child I grew up listening to my Dutch mother’s stories of life under German occupation and her family’s struggle for survival during the Hunger Winter. Life was hard but exciting for a teenager who thought nothing of delivering anti-Nazi leaflets, chopping down lime trees in front of the house for firewood, and evading the Germans on her ancient bike in her quest for food. It was this unwavering spirit that I wanted to capture in the four novels I’ve written set in wartime Holland. She was the inspiration behind my latest World War 2 novel, The Boy in the Attic.


I wrote...

The Boy in the Attic

By Imogen Matthews,

Book cover of The Boy in the Attic

What is my book about?

Holland, 1945. Ilse is only just surviving the terrible famine and violent German occupation. She takes up a position as a nurse far from home at a hospital in the grounds of her friend Connie’s house. When Ilse discovers a young Jewish man in hiding in the tiny attic room, Ilse must decide whether to keep him concealed or risk almost certain death. 

London 2001. When Anna’s father unexpectedly dies, he leaves behind a bent silver sixpence on a delicate silver chain holding the clue to a devastating family secret. Among his possessions, Anna finds a ticket to the Dutch town where he was born and a note revealing who his parents were. Anna sets out on a quest to discover their wartime fate.

Elsie and Mairi Go to War

By Diane Atkinson,

Book cover of Elsie and Mairi Go to War

Atkinson’s book tells the story of Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm who were friends and motorcycle enthusiasts. When war broke out they joined a voluntary medical unit heading for France and set up a first aid post near the frontline. They were fearless, sometimes reckless, and always cheerful as they saved the wounded. I loved the way Atkinson’s book captured their youthful exuberance and gung-ho courage.


Who am I?

Wendy Moore is a journalist and author of five non-fiction books on medical and social history. Her writing has appeared in the Guardian, Times, Observer and Lancet. Her new book is about Endell Street Military Hospital which was run and staffed by women in London in the First World War.


I wrote...

No Man's Land: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran Britain's Most Extraordinary Military Hospital During World War I

By Wendy Moore,

Book cover of No Man's Land: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran Britain's Most Extraordinary Military Hospital During World War I

What is my book about?

No Man’s Land tells the story of the pioneering women who set up and ran a major military hospital in the heart of London in the First World War. Apart from a handful of men Endell Street Military Hospital was entirely staffed by women. The staff treated 24,000 men sent back from the frontline and when war ended the hospital stayed open to care for the victims of the Spanish flu pandemic. I wrote it to give voice to the women who worked there and the men who were treated there.

Gabrielle Petit

By Sophie de Schaepdrijver,

Book cover of Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War

British people have often heard of Edith Cavell, who has been commemorated in Britain as a national heroine of the war after she was executed by the Germans in 1915 for her role in running an escape network in Belgium for Allied Soldiers. But Cavell was only one individual amongst hundreds who resisted the authorities in occupied France and Belgium. Like Cavell, young Belgian woman Gabrielle Petit was remembered as a national heroine after her execution during the war. De Schaepdrijver’s book vividly brings her story to life, explaining how she was became involved in espionage, as well as showing how a cult of remembrance grew around her in the decades following the 1918 armistice.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the First World War ever since I read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth at the age of 19. When I lived in France in my twenties I started to read French nurses’ memoirs and diaries, and for the last fifteen years or so have continued to read and write about women’s experiences during and after the war as a university academic researcher, often from a comparative perspective. Men’s stories and memories of the First World War still dominate our understanding of it, but I believe that women’s perspectives give us a vital and often overlooked insight into the war and its consequences.


I wrote...

Women as Veterans in Britain and France After the First World War

By Alison Fell,

Book cover of Women as Veterans in Britain and France After the First World War

What is my book about?

This is the story of how women in France and Britain between 1915 and 1933 appropriated the cultural identity of female war veterans in order to have greater access to public life and a voice in a political climate in which women were rarely heard on the public stage. The 'veterans' covered by this history include former nurses, charity workers, secret service agents, and members of resistance networks in occupied territory, as well as members of the British auxiliary corps.

What unites these women is how they attempted to present themselves as 'female veterans' in order to gain social advantages and give themselves the right to speak about the war and its legacies. Alison S. Fell also considers the limits of the identity of war veteran for women, considering as an example the wartime and post-war experiences of the female industrial workers who led episodes of industrial action.

Snow and Steel

By Peter Caddick-Adams,

Book cover of Snow and Steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-45

Much of what I have said about James Holland can also be said of his friend Peter Caddick-Adams, whose first-rate works include Monte Cassino. Ten Armies in Hell (2012), Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day (2019), and this, by far the best book on the last major German offensive. Adroit at capturing the German perspective, Caddick-Adams is also very good on the American response. A lengthy read, but worth it.


Who am I?

Jeremy Black is a prolific lecturer and writer, the author of over 100 books. Many concern aspects of eighteenth-century British, European, and American political, diplomatic and military history but he has also published on the history of the press, cartography, warfare, culture, and on the nature and uses of history itself.


I wrote...

A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps

By Jeremy Black,

Book cover of A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps

What is my book about?

The First World War was marked by an exceptional expansion in the use and production of military cartography. But World War II took things even further, employing maps, charts, reconnaissance, and the systematic recording and processing of geographical and topographical information on an unprecedented scale. As Jeremy Black--one of the world's leading military and cartographic historians--convincingly shows in this lavish full-color book, it is impossible to understand the events and outcomes of the Second World War without deep reference to mapping at all levels. In World War II, maps themselves became the weapons.

Loss and Redemption at St. Vith

By Gregory Fontenot,

Book cover of Loss and Redemption at St. Vith: The 7th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge

Quite simply, the best Bulge division history ever written. Plus, Fontenot sheds long-overdue light on the fighting at St. Vith, whose importance was nearly equivalent to the more famous struggle for Bastogne. Like every author on this list, he knows how to combine first-rate scholarship with excellent storytelling. Fontenot spent decades interviewing commanders and other participants, visiting the ground, and compiling source material. He knew many of the principal characters quite well and yet he never let his personal relationships stand in the way of historical objectivity. Plus, as a retired colonel and a veteran of Desert Storm who commanded an armor battalion in combat, he brings his own professional understanding into the mix. The result is a fascinating and innovative historical work.


Who am I?

John C. McManus, Ph.D., is Curators’ Distinguished Professor of U.S. Military History at Missouri University of Science and Technology, and a recipient of the prestigious Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History. He is the author of 14 books, including Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible.


I wrote...

Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible

By John C. McManus,

Book cover of Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible

What is my book about?

In December 1944, the Belgian town of Bastogne was a key objective of the Germans' surprise offensive in the Ardennes - and they had to take it quickly. For five crucial days, small groups of American soldiers slowed the German advance and allowed Bastogne to be reinforced. This is their story.

Stealing the Mystic Lamb

By Noah Charney,

Book cover of Stealing the Mystic Lamb

All should know more about the sublime work of Jan van Eyck, and his Ghent Altarpiece, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, one of the most masterful works of art ever conceived, was cherished by some, despised by others, and at times highlighted and hidden. Some parts of this work read like a thriller, particularly on somehow survived the end of WWII in an Austrian salt mine, while others read like a mystery, such as when one panel was stolen in 1934 and remains lost to this day.


Who am I?

I have been fascinated with history in general, and the history of Japan, since I was in junior high when I read a book on the samurai. After attending summer school at Harvard in 1985, I resolved to devote myself to the study of Japan. Since then, I have studied at Michigan, Stanford, and Kyoto before teaching Japanese history at first Bowdoin College and now, Princeton University. Although I primarily research Japanese history, I find scholarship pertaining to medieval and early modern Europe to be fascinating as well. 


I wrote...

Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD

By Thomas D. Conlan,

Book cover of Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD

What is my book about?

This volume provides an overview of Japanese battles, weapons, and fighting techniques and reveals that much of what we had assumed to be true of the samurai has been misremembered or misunderstood. Covering centuries, and exploring the significance of bows, swords, guns, and cannons, this book should be of interest to scholars, students, and those curious about the samurai.

Stealing the Mystic Lamb

By Noah Charney,

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

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. 


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. 

Battle

By John Toland,

Book cover of Battle: The Story of the Bulge

Compared to Macdonald’s tome, Toland’s book is a far more succinct account of the Battle of the Bulge (If you could call 444 pages succinct!). Toland doesn’t spend a lot of time on exposition. He dives right into the battle after the first twenty pages, which is refreshing because too many authors and historians spend too much time, writing about the build-up before the battle. Before you know it, you’re already halfway through the book and it’s only December 16. Toland avoids that pitfall. His prose is simple and straightforward. If you can’t read a 900-page book about the Bulge, then read Toland’s account.


Who am I?

I’ve written two books on the topic of the Battle of the Bulge and countless articles. These are my favorite books on the subject and three of the five books are cited in my own monographs. (Schrijvers wrote his book after I published mine and Kershaw’s work was only tangential to my subject matter).


I wrote...

Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General's Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne

By Leo Barron,

Book cover of Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General's Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne

What is my book about?

In Patton at the Battle of the Bulge, Army veteran and historian Leo Barron explores one of the most famous yet little-told clashes of WWII, a vitally important chapter in one of history's most legendary battles.

December 1944. For the besieged American defenders of Bastogne, time was running out. Hitler's forces had pressed in on the small Belgian town in a desperate offensive designed to push back the Allies. The U.S. soldiers had managed to repel repeated attacks, but as their ammunition dwindled, the weary paratroopers of the 101st Airborne could only hope for a miracle.

The Longest Winter

By Alex Kershaw,

Book cover of The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II's Most Decorated Platoon

If stories of divisions and corps advancing and retreating over battlefields don’t pique your interest, then this book will. Kershaw’s tale of a single reconnaissance platoon under the command of a fresh-faced 1st Lieutenant Lyle Bouck as it fights for its life and delays an entire German kampfgruppe for several crucial hours is the stuff of legend. The platoon’s sacrifice contributed significantly to the eventual defeat of the 6th SS Panzer Army, whose mission was to seize Antwerp. Thanks to Bouck and his understrength platoon, that didn’t happen. I wonder why Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have not made this gripping human interest story into a blockbuster movie. Kershaw’s story, though, doesn’t end with the battle of Lanzerath. He follows the service members as they struggle to survive as prisoners-of-war in various German Stalags, scattered throughout the Reich. If you want to read a story about the personal experiences of…


Who am I?

I’ve written two books on the topic of the Battle of the Bulge and countless articles. These are my favorite books on the subject and three of the five books are cited in my own monographs. (Schrijvers wrote his book after I published mine and Kershaw’s work was only tangential to my subject matter).


I wrote...

Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General's Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne

By Leo Barron,

Book cover of Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General's Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne

What is my book about?

In Patton at the Battle of the Bulge, Army veteran and historian Leo Barron explores one of the most famous yet little-told clashes of WWII, a vitally important chapter in one of history's most legendary battles.

December 1944. For the besieged American defenders of Bastogne, time was running out. Hitler's forces had pressed in on the small Belgian town in a desperate offensive designed to push back the Allies. The U.S. soldiers had managed to repel repeated attacks, but as their ammunition dwindled, the weary paratroopers of the 101st Airborne could only hope for a miracle.

I Was a Spy!

By Marthe McKenna,

Book cover of I Was a Spy!

Talk about a real-life action heroine! I grew up loving stories of intrigue and suspense, and Marthe McKenna’s 1932 memoir is like reading a thriller! As a young woman in German-occupied Belgium during WWI, she worked for the Resistance right under the enemy’s nose. I felt her fear as she witnessed brutality or took outlandish risks, and her exploits were incredibly brave for a woman of her time. I was in awe to read the book’s foreword by Sir Winston Churchill himself, lauding Marthe’s extraordinary courage and ingenuity during her ordeal. She taught me that we can all do more than we ever imagined if it means our survival, and her story inspired the high stakes I created in my novel.


Who am I?

As an American novelist and Anglophile who enjoys writing about British history, I never planned to venture into world war fiction, but once a story led me there I was hooked. I love doing deep-dive research and learning about real men and women of the past who faced high stakes: life and death situations and having to make impossible decisions, both on the battlefield and in the hidden world of espionage. Their courage and resourcefulness inspire me, and I realize that even when we’re at our most vulnerable, we can still rise to become our best and bravest when it counts. 


I wrote...

High as the Heavens

By Kate Breslin,

Book cover of High as the Heavens

What is my book about?

A British nurse in WWI German-occupied Brussels, Evelyn Marche spends her days at the hospital and her nights working at a café... or so it seems. Eve's most carefully guarded secret is that she also spends her nights carrying out dangerous missions as a spy for a Belgian resistance group.

When a plane crashes as she's en route to a rendezvous, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to recognize the badly injured pilot as British RFC Captain Simon Forrester. She risks her life to conceal him from the Germans, but as the secrets between them grow and the danger mounts, can they still hope to make it out of Belgium alive?

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