The best books about the Czech Republic

8 authors have picked their favorite books about the Czech Republic and why they recommend each book.

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The Prodigal Spy

By Joseph Kanon,

Book cover of The Prodigal Spy

In 1950, McCarthy-ite red-baiting is at its height and communists are being hunted across America. When a US government official is accused of being a spy by the House Un-American Activities Committee, he abandons his family to flee the country. His apparent defection seems to confirm the allegations that he was a Soviet Bloc spy. Almost 20 years later, his son goes behind the Iron Curtain for a painful reunion.  Kanon’s novel is written as a thriller, yet it captures the paranoia of America in the early Cold War, the drabness of Soviet-occupied Prague, and explores profound issues of love and betrayal. 

The Prodigal Spy

By Joseph Kanon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is 1950 and communists are being hunted across America. When Walter Kotlar is accused of being a spy by the House Un-American Activities Committee, his young son Nick destroys a piece of evidence only he knows about. But before the hearing can conclude, Walter flees the country, leaving behind his family...and a key witness lying dead, apparently having committed suicide. Nineteen years later, Nick gets a second chance to discover the truth when a beautiful journalist brings a message from his long-lost father, and Nick follows her into Soviet-occupied Prague for a painful reunion and the discovery of a…

Who am I?

Tim Tate is a multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker, investigative journalist, and the author of 18 non-fiction books. The Cold War shaped – and continues to shape – the world we live in today. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union theoretically ended the conflict between East and West, in reality, the struggle between the Cold War superpowers of America and Russia rumbles on. Nor have the espionage agencies on either side of the former Iron Curtain fundamentally changed. Their actions during the Cold War run deeply beneath modern tensions. I spent years researching the hidden history of the most important Cold War spy; his extraordinary life and activities provide a unique lens with which to understand Cold War espionage.


I wrote...

The Spy Who Was Left Out In The Cold: The Secret History of Agent Goleniewski

By Tim Tate,

Book cover of The Spy Who Was Left Out In The Cold: The Secret History of Agent Goleniewski

What is my book about?

Polish intelligence chief Michał Goleniewski, codename Sniper, was the West’s most valuable Cold War spy. After he defected to the United States in 1961, he exposed more than 1,600 communist agents ―more than any spy in history. But in 1963, as the CIA descended into a decade of in-fighting, it abandoned Goleniewski and drove him into insanity. Yet Goleniewski also bears some of the blame: he made an entirely bogus claim to be Tsarevich Aleksei Romanoff, heir to the Russian Throne and a supposed Russian Imperial fortune. 

For 50 years, American and British intelligence have erased Goleniewski from Cold War history. Using extracts from CIA and MI5 dossiers, and his Polish intelligence service file, the book reveals the courage and pathos of Goleniewski’s story.

Book cover of Daughter of Smoke & Bone

This is a brilliant urban fantasy about 17-year-old Karou, a spunky blue-haired teenager who lives with a foot in two worlds – our own, and one inhabited by all manner of monsters, good and mad. Amidst the wreckage of an ongoing war, Karou finds love with the angelic Akiva, the two fast becoming a kind of Romeo & Juliet in this sophisticated tale full of mythology and magic, which moves seamlessly from the streets of Prague to an intricate otherworld of the author’s own creation, without missing a step. It’s epic and swoony, and utterly unputdownable! 

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

By Laini Taylor,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Daughter of Smoke & Bone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 10th anniversary edition of the first in Laini Taylor's breathtaking fantasy trilogy

'Remarkable and beautifully written . . . The opening volume of a truly original trilogy.' GUARDIAN

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things.

When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a…


Who are we?

As co-authors of cross-over romantic fantasy, best friends, and soon-to-be sisters-in-law, Katie and I share a great love of all things fantasy romance. Our favourite novel, The Princess Bride, was a huge inspiration for our own book, Twin Crowns, which aims to capture the swoony romance, laugh-out-loud humour and rollicking adventure found in so many of the novels that we love. 


We wrote...

Twin Crowns

By Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber,

Book cover of Twin Crowns

What is our book about?

Bestselling authors Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber join forces on an utterly compelling YA romantic fantasy bursting with high-stakes adventure.

Wren Greenrock has always known that one day she would steal her sister's place in the palace. Trained from birth to avenge her parents' murder and usurp the princess, she will do anything to rise to power and protect the community of witches she loves. Princess Rose Valhart knows that with power comes responsibility including marriage into a brutal kingdom. Life outside the palace walls is a place to be feared and she is soon to discover that it's wilder than she ever imagined. Twin sisters separated at birth and raised into entirely different worlds are about to get to know each other's lives a whole lot better. 

Golem

By David Wisniewski,

Book cover of Golem

Golem’s illustrations are certainly not detailed in the same way as the others on this list; the imagery in this retelling of the Golem of Prague story is composed entirely of colorful cut paper, layered and woven into bold, dynamic scenes. Whereas the first four books I’ve recommended invite hours of poring over worldbuilding detail and density of information, Golem compels readers to marvel over the construction of its illustrations. How does the golem pierce through the spidery paper web of paper smoke? How are the sheets stacked to imply depth and shadow? Is this seriously all paper?! 

Golem

By David Wisniewski,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

When I fall in love with a fantasy world, I want to consume as much of that world as possible. That’s why I’m drawn to illustration that is so dense with worldbuilding elements. In my own work, I started indulging this obsession by creating tiny one-by-three-inch books that contained fully-illustrated alien worlds before eventually moving on to bigger books like A is for Another Rabbit, a book crammed so full of hidden jokes, Easter eggs, and thousand-rabbit-wide crowd scenes that my hand hurt by the end of it. Extreme detail is a way of prolonging the delight and discovery inherent in reading picture books, and I intend to keep pushing it to the limit!


I wrote...

A is for Another Rabbit

By Hannah Batsel,

Book cover of A is for Another Rabbit

What is my book about?

In A is for Another Rabbit, a rabbit-obsessed narrator makes an owl increasingly irate by refusing to play by the rules of a conventional alphabet book. Every entry is about bunnies, from "delightful, dynamic, daredevil rabbits" to "xylophone rabbits and rabbits on drums!" Readers will pore over scenes of bunnies at the circus, in a tiny town, at the museum, even in a motorcycle gang. Author-illustrator Hannah Batsel takes readers on a delightful romp through the alphabet and keeps them laughing all the way to the ridiculously fun conclusion.

Havel

By Michael Zantovsky,

Book cover of Havel: A Life

Because of the enormous odds stacked against each movement of this sort, the story of every nonviolent leader has an unlikely element to it. But Vaclav Havel’s biography may be the most unlikely of all. A playwright, an intellectual, and, in his own words, a “bundle of nerves,” Havel nevertheless found himself leader of Czechoslovakia’s astonishing nonviolent Velvet Revolution in 1989, and soon after became the country’s first president following the fall of communism. A very human embodiment of humanist conviction, Havel’s life is one to study.

Havel

By Michael Zantovsky,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

In the early years of the Trump presidency, I looked for a subject that would inspire young readers, and keep me from falling into despair. I loved researching this topic and finding ways to do justice to the incredible people and the movements at the center of my book. Simply put, it was a joy to become an expert on this important topic. There are so many reasons to be pessimistic about the state of the world, but these stories give me hope that together we can create a better future for everyone.


I wrote...

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World

By Todd Hasak-Lowy,

Book cover of We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World

What is my book about?

We Are Power brings to light the incredible individuals who have used nonviolent activism to change the world. The book explores questions such as what is nonviolent resistance and how does it work? In an age when armies are stronger than ever before, when guns seem to be everywhere, how can people confront their adversaries without resorting to violence themselves? Through key international movements as well as people such as Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel, this book discusses the components of nonviolent resistance. It answers the question “Why nonviolence?” by showing how nonviolent movements have succeeded again and again in a variety of ways, in all sorts of places, and always in the face of overwhelming odds. The book includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

Women of Prague

By Wilma Abeles Iggers,

Book cover of Women of Prague: Ethnic Diversity and Social Change from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

Women rarely feature as central figures in most works about Prague. In this book, Iggers introduces us to an array of fascinating female writers, activists, powerful ladies of society, and survivors who have lived in Prague and its environs over the past two hundred years. Each chapter includes a brief introduction and excerpts from these women’s writings, such as diaries, letters, and newspaper articles. The reader can thus hear these women’s voices and feel transported to a different moment in history. Some entries are hard to read, such as Milada Horáková’s farewell letter to her teenage daughter, written on June 23, 1950. The lead defendant in Communist Czechoslovakia’s first public show trial, Horáková was executed three days later. Wilma Iggers is a Czechoslovak native who escaped to Canada after the Nazis invaded her country in 1938, which only enhances the perspectives that she brings to these women’s lives. 

Women of Prague

By Wilma Abeles Iggers,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For many centuries Prague has exerted a particular fascination because of its beauty and therichness of its culture and history. Its famous group of German and Czech writers of mostly Jewish extraction in the earlier part of this century has deeply influenced Western culture.However, little attention has so far been paid to the roles of women in the history of thisethnically diverse area in around Prague. Based on largely autobiographical writings and letters by women and enhanced by extensive historical introduction, this book redresses a serious imbalance. The vivid and often moving portraits, which emerge from the varied material used…


Who am I?

Prague has fascinated me my whole life. I first explored the city while an English teacher in the Czech Republic in 1993, shortly after the end of Communist rule there. I’ve been wandering Prague’s streets ever since, always seeing something new and intriguing, always stumbling upon stories about the city and its people. Below are some of my favorite books about a city that continues to surprise me. The author or co-editor of four books, I teach European history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 


I wrote...

Prague: Belonging in the Modern City

By Chad Bryant,

Book cover of Prague: Belonging in the Modern City

What is my book about?

My book is a history of Prague, one of Europe’s great cities, as told from the point of view of five “outsiders”: an aspiring guidebook writer, a German-speaking newspaperman, a Bolshevik carpenter, an actress of mixed heritage who came of age during the Communist terror, and a Czech-speaking Vietnamese blogger. None of them is famous, but their lives are revealing. In addition to providing unique perspectives on the city’s past, they challenge us to ask some deceptively simple questions. How have people created for themselves a sense of belonging in the face of discrimination and political persecution? What does it mean to belong somewhere, and what might the search for belonging tell us about city life and our modern world? 

Prague Panoramas

By Cynthia Paces,

Book cover of Prague Panoramas: National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century

For years, I used to walk past the statues of St. Wenceslaus, František Palacký, and other Czech national heroes without giving them much thought. After reading this book, I came to appreciate how much Prague’s monuments can tell us about the city’s history. Their creators offered a variety of interpretations over the meaning of “Czechness”, and these monuments have inspired passionate debates about nationhood and religion ever since. The book also made me think about ways that monuments can exclude others and inspire hatred, and not just in Prague. Consider, for example, statues celebrating the Confederacy erected by white supremacists decades after the end of the Civil War. Many still dot my part of the country.

Prague Panoramas

By Cynthia Paces,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Prague Panoramas examines the creation of Czech nationalism through monuments, buildings, festivals, and protests in the public spaces of the city during the twentieth century. These \u201csites of memory\u201d were attempts by civic, religious, cultural, and political forces to create a cohesive sense of self for a country and a people torn by war, foreign occupation, and internal strife.

The Czechs struggled to define their national identity throughout the modern era. Prague, the capital of a diverse area comprising Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Poles, Ruthenians, and Romany as well as various religious groups including Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, became central to…

Who am I?

Prague has fascinated me my whole life. I first explored the city while an English teacher in the Czech Republic in 1993, shortly after the end of Communist rule there. I’ve been wandering Prague’s streets ever since, always seeing something new and intriguing, always stumbling upon stories about the city and its people. Below are some of my favorite books about a city that continues to surprise me. The author or co-editor of four books, I teach European history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 


I wrote...

Prague: Belonging in the Modern City

By Chad Bryant,

Book cover of Prague: Belonging in the Modern City

What is my book about?

My book is a history of Prague, one of Europe’s great cities, as told from the point of view of five “outsiders”: an aspiring guidebook writer, a German-speaking newspaperman, a Bolshevik carpenter, an actress of mixed heritage who came of age during the Communist terror, and a Czech-speaking Vietnamese blogger. None of them is famous, but their lives are revealing. In addition to providing unique perspectives on the city’s past, they challenge us to ask some deceptively simple questions. How have people created for themselves a sense of belonging in the face of discrimination and political persecution? What does it mean to belong somewhere, and what might the search for belonging tell us about city life and our modern world? 

Helga's Diary

By Helga Weiss, Neil Bermel (translator),

Book cover of Helga's Diary: A Young Girl's Account of Life in a Concentration Camp

There are several books I could recommend written by adults who were imprisoned as children in Terezin during the war, but this one stands out because of its artwork interspersed with factual accounts of daily life. Indeed, it’s the factual perspective she takes in her descriptions that makes them so heart-wrenching. Her map was my primary tool in writing descriptions of the camp, and her artwork, imitating her writing style, comes across as stark and factual. Written as a diary, not a novel, I cried at the cruelty with which her life unfurled before her. At the same time, however, she manages to capture the beauty of being a child, full of hope and promise. That balance makes the book a jewel.

Helga's Diary

By Helga Weiss, Neil Bermel (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Helga's Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1939, Helga Weiss was a young Jewish schoolgirl in Prague. As she endured the first waves of the Nazi invasion, she began to document her experiences in a diary. During her internment at the concentration camp of Terezin, Helga's uncle hid her diary in a brick wall. Of the 15,000 children brought to Terezin and deported to Auschwitz, there were only one hundred survivors. Helga was one of them. Miraculously, she was able to recover her diary from its hiding place after the war. These pages reveal Helga's powerful story through her own words and illustrations. Includes a special…


Who am I?

As a retired opera singer, I have sung many of the songs that are featured in the book. I first became interested in Terezin when I sang with an opera company that was performing Brundibar, a children’s opera (composed by Hans Krasa, who was imprisoned in the camp) performed more than 50 times in Terezin. As a psych major (having written several medical/psych thriller books as well) I am constantly questioning the idea of choices and the consequences that fall from them. War challenges our notion of humanity, hope, and choice, and perhaps writing helps me work through some of those questions I have…what would I do in that situation? 


I wrote...

Swan Song

By Elizabeth B. Splaine,

Book cover of Swan Song

What is my book about?

Adolf Hitler becomes obsessed with his nephew’s fiancee, a beautiful Jewish opera singer who is the doppelganger for his beloved, deceased niece with whom he had an affair. Because he can’t possess her, Hitler uses her life as a pawn in a vindictive, global chess game he plays with his nephew. Based on real-life people and places, Swan Song will have you hooked from the first tantalizing chapter.

Franz Kafka

By Franz Kafka, Nahum N. Glatzer (editor),

Book cover of Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories

I read somewhere that Franz Kafka would laugh so loud when writing his stories that he woke up his neighbors. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I get it. It’s not what is commonly thought of when someone talks about Kafka’s stories. I mean, his name has come to mean a certain style. “Kafkaesque” is used to describe stories that are absurd, nightmarish, offensive, and heavy with bureaucratic pretentiousness and deceit.

Where is the humor? Oh, it’s there. I think sometimes readers get caught up in the horror and bizarreness of it all that they miss the subtle, absurdist, dark, and very dry humor dripping in all these stories in this collection.

Franz Kafka

By Franz Kafka, Nahum N. Glatzer (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE TRIAL; THE CASTLE; AMERICA- Both Joseph K in THE TRIAL and K in THE CASTLE are victims of anonymous governing forces beyond their control. Both are atomised, estranged and rootless citizens deceived by authoritarian power. Whereas Joseph K is relentlessly hunted down for a crime that remains nameless, K ceaselessly attempts to enter the castle and so belong somewhere. Together these novels may be read as powerful allegories of totalitarian government in whatever guise it appears today. In AMERICA Karl Rossmann is 'packed off to America by his parents' to experience Oedipal and cultural isolation. Here, ordinary immigrants are…

Who am I?

I can’t remember a time I haven’t been drawn to and fascinated by the link between absurdity/humor and horror. Both genres involve setups and payoffs. The tension built up needs to be released in either a gasp or a laugh. In my own writing, I try to make myself giggle in joy at the ridiculousness of a situation and then recoil at the underlying horror that anchors it to the real world. It’s a balance I constantly try to reach and that I personally find is a joy to read.


I wrote...

The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Tales

By Thersa Matsuura,

Book cover of The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Tales

What is my book about?

Beautiful, haunting, and grotesque, The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Tales offers stories reminiscent of traditional Japanese folktales alongside contemporary horror fiction. Matsuura’s unique voice, in its poignancy and lightheartedness, is unforgettable.

Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945)

By Diana Mishkova (editor), Marius Turda (editor), Balazs Trencsenyi (editor)

Book cover of Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945)

The sources found in Collective Identities illustrate how national ideas were received, fashioned, and conveyed by thinkers in many parts of Europe during the modern era. Each volume also includes a number of opening essays and chapter introductions which provide helpful references to additional foundational texts and matters of historical context. In sum, the volumes perform the very valuable service of introducing readers to some common elements in many ‘discourses’ from the period as well as important local variations in style and content.

Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945)

By Diana Mishkova (editor), Marius Turda (editor), Balazs Trencsenyi (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This volume represents the first in a series of four books, a daring project by CEU Press, which presents the most important texts that triggered and shaped the processes of nation-building in the many countries of Central and Southeast Europe. The series brings together scholars from Austria, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, the Republic of Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey. The editors have created a new interpretative synthesis that challenges the self-centered and "isolationist" historical narratives and educational canons prevalent in the region, in the spirit of "coming to terms with…

Who am I?

I was a pretty poor student in high school and college but did reasonably well in my history classes. Much of the credit goes to a few inspired teachers who, at least in memory, made me feel that I was a witness at every turn to some grand Gibbonesque moment of truth. Perhaps they aroused in my mind the wonderful prospect of a life spent roaming unfettered in the realm of ideas. In reality, much else comes with the territory but it is nevertheless true that we academic historians get to use up a fair number of unpoliced hours doing just that. Mine have largely been expended on problems of collective identity and the formation of national movements.


I wrote...

Nationalism and Revolution in Europe, 1763-1848

By Dean Kostantaras,

Book cover of Nationalism and Revolution in Europe, 1763-1848

What is my book about?

Nationalism and Revolution in Europe, 1763-1848 addresses enduring problems concerning the emergence of the first national movements in Europe and their role in the crises associated with the Age of Revolution. Considerable detail is supplied to the picture of Enlightenment era pursuits in which the nation appeared as both an object of theoretical interest and site of practice. The work thus offers an advance in narrative coherence by portraying how developments in the sphere of ideas influenced the terms of political debate in the years preceding the upheavals of 1789-1815. Subsequent chapters explore the composite nature of later revolutions and the relative capacity of the three chief sources of unrest – constitutional, national, and social – to inspire extra-legal challenges to the Restoration status quo.

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