The most recommended books about Berlin

Who picked these books? Meet our 103 experts.

103 authors created a book list connected to Berlin, and here are their favorite Berlin books.
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Book cover of Berlin in the Balance: The Blockade, the Airlift, the First Major Battle of the Cold War

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

From my list on the Russian blockade of Berlin and the Allied Airlift.

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

Helena P. Schrader Why did Helena love this book?

Parris’ book provides a “peek behind the curtains” to look at the decision-making process, particularly in Washington.

He uses eye-witness reports to highlight the differences between the various actors, and underlines disagreements within governments. Truman, for example, was not only often at odds with his generals and diplomats, he was also considered a “lame duck” president, destined for electoral defeat during the critical early months of the blockade and airlift.

Understanding his relationships with his cabinet officials is thus extremely illuminating and well handled by Parrish. The weakness of the book is that its focus on American politics and issues results in a comparative neglect of British, German, and Soviet perspectives.   

By Thomas Parrish,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In June 1948, Soviet authorities in Germany announced a land blockade of the American, British, and French sectors of Berlin. Isolated more than one hundred miles within Soviet-occupied territory, western Berlin was in danger of running out of coal, food, and the courage to stand up to Joseph Stalin.As Berlin in the Balance recounts, this crisis was a turning-point for U.S. policy. Just three years earlier, the Soviet Union had been an ally and Berlin the target of American bombers. In 1946 Winston Churchill had ignited protests by calling for an Anglo-American alliance against the USSR. The Berlin blockade made…

Book cover of The Librarian of Burned Books

Rebecca D'Harlingue Author Of The Map Colorist

From Rebecca's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Reader Former language teacher Book club enthusiast History lover

Rebecca's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Rebecca D'Harlingue Why did Rebecca love this book?

Like many readers, I love stories about books. I also enjoy novels set in multiple periods.

In this one, set in 1933 Berlin, 1936 Paris, and 1944 New York City, Labuskes skillfully weaves the timelines together. There are many novels about World War II and the years before it, but this one offers perspectives unlike any I’ve read before. I was also touched by learning about the Council of Books in Wartime, consisting of booksellers, publishers, librarians, and authors, who chose books to be sent to those fighting the war.

The books were printed in dimensions to fit into a soldier’s pocket. General Eisenhower even requested that each man about to board a landing craft on D-Day be issued a book. What a stirring testament to the power of story!

By Brianna Labuskes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For fans of The Rose Code and The Paris Library, The Librarian of Burned Books is a captivating WWII-era novel about the intertwined fates of three women who believe in the power of books to triumph over the very darkest moments of war.

Berlin 1933. Following the success of her debut novel, American writer Althea James receives an invitation from Joseph Goebbels himself to participate in a culture exchange program in Germany. For a girl from a small town in Maine, 1933 Berlin seems to be sparklingly cosmopolitan, blossoming in the midst of a great change with the charismatic new…

Book cover of Berlin Diary

Jim Carr Author Of Camp X Doublecross

From my list on World war novels for people who love history and fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

The Second World War has always fascinated me, starting when I first entered school. The war had just started and it became even more real with each successive class when we were encouraged to buy war-saving stamps. On the home front, we experienced blackouts and mock air raids. Sugar, meat, butter, alcohol, and even gasoline were rationed. My cousins were overseas and in the thick of it. They always made sure I had an airplane model at Christmas. And as the war wound to a close, they sent me a cap from one from one of the German soldiers. It still intrigues me and still lives in my head.

Jim's book list on World war novels for people who love history and fiction

Jim Carr Why did Jim love this book?

You can feel the danger lurking behind every day as radio journalist Shirer watched Hitler build on one horror after another.

Reynolds writes in a way you can hear him, in a stye that echoed his broadcasts. Even after the declaration of war, “life here is still quite normal… the theatres and movies, all open and jammed.”

And this item when he went to the front: “At last will get a chance–maybe–to see how this German colossus has been doing it, walking through Belgium, Holland and now, Northern France, so fast.”

What I like about Shirer’s approach is that he takes you along with him on every day’s events. There were so many things he touched on that often got missed in other books. I enjoyed being with him each day and you will, too.

By William L. Shirer,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Berlin Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the acclaimed journalist and bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, this day-by-day, eyewitness account of the momentous events leading up to World War II in Europe is now available in a new paperback edition. CBS radio broadcaster William L. Shirer was virtually unknown in 1940 when he decided there might be a book in the diary he had kept in Europe during the 1930s-specifically those sections dealing with the collapse of the European democracies and the rise of Nazi Germany. Berlin Diary first appeared in 1941, and the timing was perfect. The energy, the…

Book cover of Friedrich Nietzsche

Anthony K. Jensen Author Of An Interpretation of Nietzsche's on the Uses and Disadvantage of History for Life

From my list on interpreting Friedrich Nietzsche.

Why am I passionate about this?

I don’t especially like Nietzsche, and rarely agree with him. As a professor of philosophy, I find that he is less original than is popularly assumed and less clear than he should be—not out of some mysterious profundity—so much as a recalcitrance or maybe inability to make plain what he thinks. Even so, I find it quite impossible to break away from Nietzsche. For my part, and I suspect for many readers who came upon him during their formative years, Nietzsche’s thought is so close to me that I’m always wrestling with it. Maybe that’s not a ‘result of’ but a ‘condition for’ reading it?

Anthony's book list on interpreting Friedrich Nietzsche

Anthony K. Jensen Why did Anthony love this book?

When I was a struggling young graduate student, I was fortunate enough to have Volker Gerhardt host me as a Fulbright Scholar at the Humboldt Universität in Berlin. A former vice-president of the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Gerhardt is one of those remarkably industrious luminaries, who, with even a word of encouragement, can launch an entire area of inquiry. Working within what one might call a Kantian-Humanistic orientation, he has written widely on the most varied aspects of intellectual culture. This introductory book on Nietzsche, which is now in its fourth edition, is masterly in balancing the needs of new readers with the sort of nuances from which seasoned scholars continue to draw. Gerhardt’s Nietzsche is somewhat the cultural pragmatist, concerned above all with living an authentic life in the context of a continually-forming Europe. 

By Volker Gerhardt,

Why should I read it?

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

Book cover of A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

Eliza Robertson Author Of Demi-Gods

From my list on featuring transgressive mothers.

Why am I passionate about this?

While it only simmers in the background of Demi-Gods, I find myself returning to this theme in my fiction — of mothers behaving badly. The topic fascinates me because we live in a society that idealizes the Mother. So much so that we have removed sex and desire from this archetype. We even made Mary, the “universal mother,” a virgin. As someone with a womb, society expects me to have children. (I don’t yet.) Fiction has provided a space for me to disentangle my own thoughts around motherhood — on what I might claim for myself, and what I absolutely refuse to take on. 

Eliza's book list on featuring transgressive mothers

Eliza Robertson Why did Eliza love this book?

Many of the characters in this story collection work in unappreciated, underpaid, and unseen labor: as caregivers, nurses, cleaners, switchboard operators, administrators, substitute teachers. The stories are rooted in Berlin’s own experience as a mother, worker, and alcoholic.

A lot of authors are famous for writing “working class” stories — but many of them are men. I love this collection because it centers the story on working-class women, who often happen to be mothers raising their children alone. 

Lucia Berlin didn’t receive much attention as an author in her lifetime, but she writes with a skill, shrewdness, and vulnerability that places her among the very best. While some of the stories in this collection are sorrowful, others are funny, even uplifting. Whether from laughter or sadness, I was frequently moved to tears.

By Lucia Berlin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Manual for Cleaning Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrating Fifty Years of Picador Books

The world just goes along. Nothing much matters, you know? I mean really matters. but then sometimes, just for a second, you get this grace, this belief that it does matter, a whole lot.

With an introduction from Lydia Davis

Lucia Berlin's stories in A Manual for Cleaning Women make for one of the most remarkable unsung collections in twentieth-century American fiction.

With extraordinary honesty and magnetism, Lucia Berlin invites us into her rich, itinerant life: the drink and the mess and the pain and the beauty and the moments of surprise and of…

Book cover of Kafka in Love

Diane Charney Author Of Letters to Men of Letters

From my list on offbeat memoirs.

Why am I passionate about this?

I taught at Yale for 33 years and I hold advanced degrees from the Sorbonne. I am interested in literature as lessons for life, but I am mostly a passionate letter writer, especially to the great authors who have marked me. They are never really dead. I carry them around with me. I selected the category of Offbeat Memoirs because I have written one. I also have an Italian alter-ego, Donatella de Poitiers, who authors a blog in which she muses about how a lifelong Francophile could have forsaken la Belle France for la dolce vita in the Umbrian countryside, where the food and fresh air are way better than the roads.

Diane's book list on offbeat memoirs

Diane Charney Why did Diane love this book?

I consider the author my French Writing Partner; I have been her translator. Our mutual love for Franz Kafka brought us together. Her book draws on Kafka’s letters to the women he could never bring himself to marry. Jacqueline and I feel that, in our shared devotion to Kafka, we perhaps understand him better than the women he left behind. He may have had a hard time finding his own soulmate, but in our case, he turned out to be quite the matchmaker.

By Jacqueline Raoul-Duval,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kafka was an attractive, slender, and elegant man--something of a dandy, who captivated his friends and knew how to charm women. He seemed to have had four important love affairs: Felice, Julie, Milena, and Dora. All of them lived far away, in Berlin or Vienna, and perhaps that's one of the reasons that he loved them: he chose long-distance relationships so he could have the pleasure of writing to them, without the burden of having to live with them. He was engaged to all four women, and four times he avoided marriage. At the end of each love affair, he…

Book cover of The Undercurrents: A Story of Berlin

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

From Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Gabrielle Robinson Why did Gabrielle love this book?

Prepare yourself for a thrilling and idiosyncratic ride where a pool of water on Bell’s kitchen floor leads her to investigate Berlin’s “swampy” past while also trying to make a home for herself and her sons after a divorce. 

Bell, an Anglo-American art critic and author, shows us how to find undercurrents hidden below the surface in both history and our own lives and how to put the pieces together in meaningful if fragmented, new patterns.

I agree with the New York Times review that we are “mysteriously changed - enriched - by the journey she has invited us to take.”

By Kirsty Bell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Humane, thought provoking, and moving, this hybrid literary portrait of a place makes the case for radical close readings: of ourselves, our cities, and our histories.

The Undercurrents is a dazzling work of biography, memoir, and cultural criticism told from a precise vantage point: a stately nineteenth-century house on Berlin’s Landwehr Canal, a site at the center of great historical changes, but also smaller domestic ones. The view from this house offers a ringside seat onto the city’s theater of action. The building has stood on the banks of the canal since 1869, its feet in the West but looking…

Book cover of Blood Brothers

Catherine Hokin Author Of The Secretary

From my list on stories set in Berlin.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated with the history-soaked city of Berlin where my novels are set since a school exchange trip as a teenager. It was the border that did it. Machine guns, dog runs, barbed wire, watchtowers. They were daunting. More striking still was our guide’s story about her sister who lived on the other side in the East. They were barely a mile apart but hadn’t seen each other in the twenty years since the Wall went up. I’ve been back many times since and have had a passion for German history from that day, particularly for the experiences of its people who have lived through such turbulent times.

Catherine's book list on stories set in Berlin

Catherine Hokin Why did Catherine love this book?

I stumbled on this novel when I was looking for something else (a common writers’ problem). It was written in 1932 and banned the next year by the Nazis and is set amongst the gangs of young men struggling to survive in a harsh and desperately impoverished Berlin. The descriptions of the hard side of the city are brilliantly drawn and the characters are so real you long for their lives to improve even when you know there is almost no hope of it. Haffner was a social worker who clearly knew Berlin’s streets well. To add to the poignancy of his writing, nothing is known about his fate beyond a summons before a Nazi tribunal in the late 1930s. After that, he disappears. I really hope his book doesn’t.

By Ernst Haffner, Michael Hofmann (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Blood Brothers is the only known novel by German social worker and journalist Ernst Haffner, of whom nearly all traces were lost during the course of the Second World War. Told in stark, unsparing detail, Haffner's story delves into the illicit underworld of Berlin on the eve of Hitler's rise to power, describing how these blood brothers move from one petty crime to the next, spending their nights in underground bars and makeshift hostels, struggling together to survive the harsh realities of gang life, and finding in one another the legitimacy denied them by society.

Book cover of Berlin Game

Merle Nygate Author Of The Righteous Spy

From my list on spy books that spies read and sometimes wrote themselves.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve written and script edited in a lot of different genres, from factual drama to sitcom, children’s TV to fantasy. I’ve always loved spy stories, and I’ve always wanted to write one. Recently, at the University of East Anglia I studied for an MA in Crime Fiction, and that’s where I finally got the chance to study espionage and write a spy novel myself. I hope you enjoy my selection of books if you haven’t already read them. Or even if you have. They’re all so good that I feel like re-reading them right now. 

Merle's book list on spy books that spies read and sometimes wrote themselves

Merle Nygate Why did Merle love this book?

This is the first book in a nine-book series, and once again, these are books I read and read again and always find something new to enjoy.

Set towards the end of the Cold War, the books make me laugh as well as think. In planning the series, Deighton said he wanted to write about Samson’s marriage and how the relationship is impacted by the work. I found this a compelling idea and it’s something I’ve done in my new book. I’m not sure that Len Deighton was a spy himself, but he certainly knew a few.

By Len Deighton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Berlin Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Masterly ... dazzlingly intelligent and subtle' Sunday Times

'Deighton's best novel to date - sharp, witty and sour, like Raymond Chandler adapted to British gloom and the multiple betrayals of the spy' Observer

Embattled agent Bernard Samson is used to being passed over for promotion as his younger, more ambitious colleagues - including his own wife Fiona - rise up the ranks of MI6. When a valued agent in East Berlin warns the British of a mole at the heart of the Service, Samson must return to the field and the city he loves to uncover the traitor's identity. This…

Book cover of Proud Pink Sky

Kevin Klehr Author Of The Midnight Man

From Kevin's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Traveller Film buff Happily married HiFi nerd Gay

Kevin's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Kevin Klehr Why did Kevin love this book?

This dystopian novel has a unique premise – Berlin as a queer utopia, but this version of the city has an alternative history.

The story features fascinating characters such as Cissie, a straight married woman discovering the trans district, and William and Gareth, a young gay couple establishing their relationship.

At first, these individuals feel like archetypes, even though we fully connect with them emotionally. This is the beauty of the author’s structure. We understand what they represent in the context of this metropolis, until their voices are heard more and more.

And when the use of dialogue is expanded, what we understand of this Berlin, and the characters, changes.

For me, this was a true page turner.

By Redfern Jon Barrett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this stunning work of speculative urban fiction, Redfern Jon Barrett breaks down the binary between utopia and dystopia—presenting an ambitopian vision of the world’s first gay state.

A glittering gay metropolis of 24 million people, Berlin is a bustling world of pride parades, polyamorous trysts, and even an official gay language. Its distant radio broadcasts are a lifeline for teenagers William and Gareth, who flee toward sanctuary. But is there a place for them in the deeply divided city?

Meanwhile, young mother Cissie loves Berlin’s towering high rises and chaotic multiculturalism, yet she’s never left her heterosexual district—not until…