The best Berlin Wall books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about the Berlin Wall and why they recommend each book.

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Wall

By Peter Wyden,

Book cover of Wall: The Inside Story of Divided Berlin

This book is unjustly neglected because it was published just days before the Berlin Wall fell, an event the author, like the rest of us, failed to foresee. Wyden, a prolific writer who grew up Jewish in Hitler’s Berlin, uses his knowledge of the city to situate stories of highwire diplomacy and sensational escapes against a backdrop of ordinary lives marked by grim repression. 

Wall

By Peter Wyden,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Discusses the events surrounding the erection of the Berlin Wall, the Wall's devastating effect on those living near it, and its major impact on East-West relations


Who am I?

I am a historian of cities and the ways people shape them. Living in Berlin, both before and after the Wall came down, made me aware of how the shared experiences and memories of particular places give meaning to civic life. (And for a historian it was thrilling to find a place where history was taken very seriously.) Although I have since written broader studies—of cars and cities (Autophobia) and of earlier street life (The Streets of Europe)–it was the experience of living in Berlin while learning its history that enabled me to see the layers of meaning embedded in buildings and streets.


I wrote...

The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape

By Brian Ladd,

Book cover of The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape

What is my book about?

The scars of German history are inescapable in Berlin. Even where they are not visible, residents and activists have called them to our attention. The book charts the city’s history by taking readers to sites that mark famous as well as obscure events: the Berlin Wall, the Reichstag building, Gestapo headquarters, the royal palace, Hitler’s bunker, synagogues, and many more. Understanding these places through the disputes about their destruction, preservation, and memorialization gives us a picture of a city and a citizenry that is grappling with the burdens of its past.

W the Whore

By Anke Feuchtenberger, Katrin de Vries, Mark David Nevins (translator)

Book cover of W the Whore

This book is contemporary art. The graphics are on a different artistic level than most comics or graphic novels. It made me realize that the contemporary art scene can live and flourish in storytelling, which by the end of the day led me on my path to becoming a comic artist. The story about W the Whore has a weird poetic feel. It is not about a prostitute, but about a woman and that is the symbolism and metaphors Feuchtenberger introduces in her surreal landscape.

W the Whore

By Anke Feuchtenberger, Katrin de Vries, Mark David Nevins (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The experiences of womanhood are heightened and transformed in these eerie, fairy tale–like comics by a gifted artist-writer duo.

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West German–born Katrin de Vries read a magazine featuring the drawings of the East German–born Anke Feuchtenberger. De Vries wrote to ask Feuchtenberger if she might want to collaborate, and together they’ve produced some of the most striking German comics of the last thirty years, most notably W the Whore.

Collected here in English for the first time, W the Whore, W the Whore Makes Her Tracks, and W the Whore Throws…


Who am I?

I have been a surrealist since I discovered Salvador Dali and David Lynch at the age of 14. I have been on a path to combine the art world’s depth in style; symbols and metaphors with storytelling. Becoming a comic artist was a natural path and the media is great for expressing the many complex questions in life; what it is to be human and a woman in this world. I have become an artist who revolves around feminism and surrealism, eros and doubt. 


I wrote...

The Clitoris

By Rikke Villadsen,

Book cover of The Clitoris

What is my book about?

A woman has an encounter with a tattooist that leads to a quick and very different pregnancy. This unexpected event leads her on a journey of self-discovery; deep in the flickering world of her subconscious, she discovers many potent symbols, poetic wonders, spiritual guides, and strange visions.

Music for Wartime

By Rebecca Makkai,

Book cover of Music for Wartime: Stories

Of the several great works of fiction by this National Book Award-winner, this story collection is my favorite. Every character seems like someone I might know, or would like to know, and every story rings true. She is a master of description and dialogue, and the situations are as humorous as dark. Every story of course relates in some way to music – from a violinist to composer to a wanna-be, and a contemporary character named Bach – in settings from Berlin to an unnamed country. In the end, each tale has to do with relationships, as great fiction does, and the soundtracks that define them. I just love this collection. 

Music for Wartime

By Rebecca Makkai,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A short-story collection from the acclaimed author of The Great Believers

Named a must-read by the Chicago Tribune, O Magazine, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and The L Magazine

Rebecca Makkai's first two novels, The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, have established her as one of the freshest and most imaginative voices in fiction. Now, the award-winning writer, whose stories have appeared in four consecutive editions of The Best American Short Stories, returns with a highly anticipated collection bearing her signature mix of intelligence, wit, and heart.

A reality show producer manipulates two contestants into falling in love, even…


Who am I?

I’ve loved short stories since I was a young girl introduced to Edgar Allen Poe. There’s something especially exciting about a complete story in few words, and once I had to balance work, children, and personal relationships, stories became all the more cherished for short takes. I especially like tales about and by women, relating to our real challenges, and I review them often so other busy women discover better writers and interesting tales. There is nothing like a short story any time of day, especially in the evening, to soothe the soul. 


I wrote...

Rational Women

By Randy Kraft,

Book cover of Rational Women

What is my book about?

Short stories fit a busy woman’s clock. They inspire and educate and, in other lives, we learn something of our own. These modern women grapple with life choices, vacillating between reason and passion:

A grieving businesswoman seeks connection with a stranger. A cerebral woman marries a professor only to discover she needs more than intellect. A teacher takes her poor students’ lives into her own hands. A high-achiever questions her values. A newspaper editor confronts her biases. A white writer faces the disdain of a black critic. At court for a minor offense, a righteous woman considers her real crimes. A sculptor struggles to mold her newborn. An empty nester chooses a new path. In Paris to please her mother, a docile woman discovers a different destiny. 

The Berlin Wall

By Frederick Taylor,

Book cover of The Berlin Wall

As someone who was born in East Germany, I have experienced, studied, read, and heard a fair bit about the German Democratic Republic and the famous Wall that separated it from the West. As the fault line of the Cold War, it’s hard to overestimate the symbolic significance of this structure and it is therefore hardly surprising that so much has been written about it. Taylor’s book stood out to me because it is about people as well as politics. The many anecdotes that lace his book shed light on the personal stories behind this inanimate object as well as making it a great read.

The Berlin Wall

By Frederick Taylor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The astonishing drama of Cold War nuclear poker that divided humanity - reissued with a new Postscript to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the wall.

During the night of 12-13 August 1961, a barbed-wire entanglement was hastily constructed through the heart of Berlin. It metamorphosed into a structure that would come to symbolise the insanity of the Cold War: the Berlin Wall. Frederick Taylor tells the story of the post-war political conflict that led to a divided Berlin and unleashed an East-West crisis, which lasted until the very people the Wall had been built to imprison breached…


Who am I?

I was born in East Germany and experienced the disappearance of that country and the huge changes that followed as a child. My history teachers reflected this fracture in the narratives they constructed, switching between those they had grown up with and the new version they had been told to teach after 1990. It struck me how little resemblance the neat division of German history into chapters and timelines bears to people’s actual lives which often span one or even several of Germany’s radical fault lines. My fascination with my country’s fractured memory has never left me since. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire; 1871-1918

What is my book about?

Before 1871, Germany was not a nation but an idea. Its founder, Otto von Bismarck, had a formidable task at hand. How would he bring thirty-nine individual states under the yoke of a single Kaiser, convincing proud Prussians, Bavarians, and Rhinelanders to become Germans? Once united, could the young European nation wield enough power to rival the empires of Britain and France—all without destroying itself in the process?

In a unique study of five decades that changed the course of modern history, Katja Hoyer tells the story of the German Empire from its violent beginnings to its calamitous defeat in the First World War. It is a dramatic tale of national self-discovery, social upheaval, and realpolitik that ended, as it started, in blood and iron.

Kieslowski on Kieslowski

By Krzysztof Kieslowski,

Book cover of Kieslowski on Kieslowski

In contrast to Hollywood, Krzysztof Kieslowski worked under Polish Communism for the first 20 years of his career, before he became better known in the West with the Three Colours Trilogy. In Poland, it wasn’t the box office that determined a filmmaker’s fate but what the state censors thought. His film Blind Chance wasn’t released for six years because it suggested that a person’s political affiliation – whether they become a dissident or party member – was up to, well, blind chance. This is a wonderfully thoughtful book not only about film-making, but working under Communism, what it is to be a creative artist, and, if I may, life.

Kieslowski on Kieslowski

By Krzysztof Kieslowski,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Decalogue, The Double Life of Veronique and his trilogy, Three Colours, earned Kieslowski his reputation as a world-class film-maker. Kieslowski was notoriously reticent, and even dismissive of his work and talent, but these frank and detailed discussions show a passion for film-making and a career which was often threatened by political and economic change within Poland. In the book he talks at length about his life: his childhood, disrupted by Hitler and Stalin; his four attempts to get into film school; and what Poland and its future meant to him at the time of writing, before his death in 1996.


Who am I?

I’ve always loved movies. In my 20s, I went to film school – perhaps you can still find a couple of the short films I wrote with animator Matthew Hood on Vimeo (Hourglass and Metalstasis) – and I worked a little in the UK film industry reading scripts for Film4, among others. I’ve also interviewed filmmakers, including Nicolas Winding Refn, Christopher Hampton, Life of Brian producer John Goldstone and editor Anne V. Coates. And I’ve always found a romance, despite the seedy aspects, of Tinseltown being developed out in Hollywoodland, a place of orange groves and pepper trees where people from the Midwest went to retire in the sun.   


I wrote...

Dark History of Hollywood: A century of greed, corruption and scandal behind the movies (Dark Histories)

By Kieron Connolly,

Book cover of Dark History of Hollywood: A century of greed, corruption and scandal behind the movies (Dark Histories)

What is my book about?

In the century since it produced its first films, Hollywood has presented itself as the glamorous home to the beautiful and talented. But there has always been a dark side to Tinseltown. Right from the beginning, the Dream Factory created a hothouse of excess – too much money, adulation, expectation, and ego. Some actors would trade sex in the, often vain, hope of career advancement, while mobsters muscled in on the unions and extorted the studios, whose heads kept close ties to the police and the Press. 

From the movie moguls to the corporations that run the studios today, from drug addictions to witch-hunts, Dark History of Hollywood is the story of murder and suicide, ambition and betrayal, and how money can make almost everyone compromise.

Book cover of The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen Stories

This book is a provocative and stimulating read, offering a series of stories on and about interior spaces and the buildings they are situated in. The stories of buildings and their changes are fascinating, providing boundless enthusiasm to communicate the ideas and stories of each space. Hollis states that many conversations are started and that maybe not all of them are ever finished, this book provides an inspired beginning for any person who wants to begin an exploration of the art of adapting and altering existing buildings. 

The Secret Lives of Buildings

By Edward Hollis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The plans are drawn up, a site is chosen, foundations are dug: a building comes into being with the expectation that it will stay put and stay for ever. But a building is a capricious thing: it is inhabited and changed, and its existence is a tale of constant and curious transformation. In this radical reimagining of architectural history, Edward Hollis tells the stories of thirteen buildings, beginning with the 'once upon a time' when they first appeared, through the years of appropriation, ruin and renovation, and ending with a temporary 'ever after'. In spell-binding prose, Hollis follows his buildings…


Who am I?

Graeme Brooker is a Professor and Head of Interior Design at the Royal College of Art London. He has written and published fifteen books on the histories and theories of inside spaces, many of which focus on the reuse of existing artefacts, buildings, and cities. Apart from teaching and writing, when he isn’t cycling, he is often staring intently at the sea in Brighton, where he currently lives.


I wrote...

50/50 Words for Reuse: A Minifesto

By Graeme Brooker,

Book cover of 50/50 Words for Reuse: A Minifesto

What is my book about?

50/50 Words is a compilation of the words for reuse. It outlines a lexicon of language, is an expression of vocabularies, and claims a glossary of terms all used to distinguish the transformation of the existing into something new in order to make new interior spaces. In response to a world with finite resources, the very-near future of the built environment will be focused solely on the re-designation of all existing matter. New-build and single-use processes will be obsoleted distinctions for making cities, buildings, interiors, and artefacts. 50|50 characterises centuries of these practices and it specifies their relevance to the 21st century, a time that can be characterised in its responses to the challenges of the climate emergency. 

This book is only available direct from the publisher here.

Wall Disease

By Jessica Wapner,

Book cover of Wall Disease: The Psychological Toll of Living Up Against a Border

We know a lot about the hot-button issues surrounding borders – family separations, deportation, smuggling but borders also have wildly underestimated psychological effects on individuals. Wapner impressively synthesizes data and research collected on the effects of border barriers from some of the most volatile regions in the world including India and Pakistan, Mexico and the U.S., and both sides of the peace lines of Northern Ireland. The mental health issues caused by militarized borders are alarming and almost entirely unrecognized in today’s world; Wapner brings these shocking and revelatory dynamics to light.

Wall Disease

By Jessica Wapner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking investigation into the hidden mental health effects of border walls, revealing the harm they bring to all who live near them.

Today, there are at least seventy border walls: from the US-Mexico border to the seventeen thousand miles of barbed wire that wall off Bangladesh from India, as well as the five-layer fence between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Border walls protect us, the argument goes, because they keep danger out. But what if the walls themselves endanger everyone who lives near them - on both sides?

In this thoroughly reported, eye opening work, science journalist Jessica Wapner reveals…


Who am I?

For over a decade I’ve been writing about the lines that define us. Whether it’s the work we do or the communities we live in, we all create “borders” in our everyday lives. I’ve interviewed thousands of people from all walks of life to gain a better understanding of the lines we use to carve out our identities and our place in this world, whether it’s on the individual level, within a small community, or on a national scale. My work is always getting at how these lines of separation function, practically speaking, particularly in an increasingly globalized, interconnected world. 


I wrote...

14 Miles: Building the Border Wall

By D.W. Gibson,

Book cover of 14 Miles: Building the Border Wall

What is my book about?

In August of 2019, Donald Trump finished building his border wall—at least a portion of it. In San Diego, the Army Corps of engineers completed two years of construction on a 14-mile steel beamed barrier that extends eighteen feet high and costs a staggering $147 million. As one border patrol agent told reporters visiting the site, “It was funded and approved and it was built under his administration. It is Trump’s wall.” 14 Miles is a definitive account of all the dramatic construction, showing readers what it feels like to stand on both sides of the border looking up at the imposing and controversial barrier.

14 Miles explains not only how the wall has reshaped our landscape and countless lives but also how its shadow looms over our identity as a nation.

Atlas of Remote Islands

By Judith Schalansky,

Book cover of Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Island I Have Not Visited and Never Will

This fascinating little gem of a book is concerned with tiny, largely unknown islands scattered around the world. Schalansky essentially selected them largely for how far they are from big, continental lands. Even after spending a significant portion of my life at sea, I can only claim to have visited or even sailed within sight of about a dozen of them. Most of these small atolls are far from their mother countries. But each of these isolated islands has a story that is inextricably tied to the sea.

Atlas of Remote Islands

By Judith Schalansky,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Atlas of Remote Islands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Judith Schalansky was born in 1980 on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. The Soviets wouldn't let anyone travel so everything she learnt about the world came from her parents' battered old atlas. An acclaimed novelist and award-winning graphic designer, she has spent years creating this, her own imaginative atlas of the world's loneliest places. These islands are so difficult to reach that until the late 1990s more people had set foot on the moon than on Peter I Island in the Antarctic.

On one page are perfect maps, on the other unfold bizarre stories from the history of…


Who am I?

I'm a retired 4-star Admiral who spent over forty years at sea, rising from Midshipman at the Naval Academy to Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. I studied literature and published eleven books, many dealing with the oceans. My PhD from Tufts University, where I served as Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, centered on the Law of the Sea Treaty. My father was a seagoing US Marine, my wife grew up in the Navy with a father who was a Navy pilot, and my daughter was a Navy nurse. Finally, my basset hound is named Penelope, after the wife of Ulysses who waited for her husband to return from ten years at sea.


I wrote...

The Sailor's Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea

By James G. Stavridis,

Book cover of The Sailor's Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea

What is my book about?

The oceans are vast, covering over 70% of the world but few of us know them well.  To create The Sailor’s Bookshelf, I selected the fifty books that formed the heart of my own voyage from Midshipman at Annapolis to 4-star Admiral, and provided a concise summary of each them, as well as weaving in my own experiences at sea. The books cover everything from the history of navigation to the adventures of the bravest seagoing explorers to the expansive fictional literature of the sea.  Let’s get underway!

Twilight of Democracy

By Anne Applebaum,

Book cover of Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends

An intimate and heartfelt portrayal of how Poland turned away from democratic values after a few brief decades of hope and tolerance following the collapse of Communism. Applebaum was herself caught up in these events, which cut right through families and friendships, and which have led to a situation in which fealty to bizarre conspiracy theories is a prerequisite for political advancement in a declining democracy. 

Twilight of Democracy

By Anne Applebaum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A FINANCIAL TIMES, ECONOMIST AND NEW STATESMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020

'The most important non-fiction book of the year' David Hare

In the years just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people from across the political spectrum in Europe and America celebrated a great achievement, felt a common purpose and, very often, forged personal friendships. Yet over the following decades the euphoria evaporated, the common purpose and centre ground gradually disappeared, extremism rose once more and eventually - as this book compellingly relates - the relationships soured too.

Anne Applebaum traces this history in an unfamiliar…


Who am I?

I have had a lifelong interest in history and in particular the history of democracy. When I became a cognitive scientist, I initially studied basic memory processes using a mix of computer simulations and experimentation. I became interested in misinformation during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the purported “Weapons of Mass Destruction” never materialized but large segments of the American public continued to believe in their existence. Some 20 years later, misinformation has taken center stage in public life and has metastasized into a danger to democracy in many countries around the world. The books on this list should present a warning and inspiration to all of us.


I wrote...

The Debunking Handbook 2020

By Stephan Lewandowsky, And Colleagues,

Book cover of The Debunking Handbook 2020

What is my book about?

This is one of several free handbooks that I have published with colleagues during the last few years that provide practical and simple-to-use information about how to debunk misinformation and conspiracy theories.

As a cognitive scientist, I am intrigued by misinformation because it is “sticky” – that is, when it is corrected, people may still continue to rely on it even if they say that the information is now wrong. This is because our mind finds it difficult to let go of information—even if it is false—if we don’t know what to replace it with. The Debunking Handbook explains how we can maximize the effectiveness of corrections so we can deal with misinformation.

This book is available for free here.

Born in the GDR

By Hester Vaizey,

Book cover of Born in the GDR: Life in the Shadow of the Wall

The author of this non-fiction book interviews eight people who were born and raised in East Germany’s totalitarian regime and have had to adjust to a new life after the Wall comes down. I liked this book because it gave me a different perspective on East Germany and how people felt about the regime. Turns out it was a little more complicated than simply thinking everything was bad. And once the Wall came down, many things became difficult for easterners, particularly the higher cost of living and the scorn they experienced from westerners. 

Born in the GDR

By Hester Vaizey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The changes that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 were particularly dramatic for East Germans. With the German Democratic Republic effectively taken over by West Germany in the reunification process, nothing in their lives was immune from change and upheaval: from the way they voted, the newspapers they read, to the brand of butter they bought.

But what was it really like to go from living under communism one minute, to capitalism the next? What did the East Germans make of capitalism? And how do they remember the GDR today? Are their memories dominated by fear…


Who am I?

My mother grew up in Germany during World War Two and her family (or what was left of it) settled in the Soviet Zone that eventually became East Germany. She managed to get out in 1953 by sneaking across the border with a weekend pass, but other members of the family remained. This history has been close to my heart as a result and is what inspired me to write my novel, The House of One Thousand Eyes. I had to do a lot of research to evoke an authentic setting for my novel. This reading list comes from my research of, and fascination with, that time in history.


I wrote...

The House of One Thousand Eyes

By Michelle Barker,

Book cover of The House of One Thousand Eyes

What is my book about?

For Lena, life in East Germany in the early 1980s is particularly hard. After the death of her parents in a factory explosion and time spent in a psychiatric hospital, she is sent to live with her stern aunt, a devoted member of the ruling Communist Party. Visits with her beloved Uncle Erich, a best-selling author, are her only respite.  

But one night, her uncle disappears. Gone also are all his belongings, his books, and even his birth records. Lena is desperate to know what happened to him, but it’s as if he never existed. She cannot discuss her uncle or her attempts to find him with anyone. There are government spies everywhere. But Lena refuses to give up her search, regardless of the consequences.  

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