The most recommended books about the Stasi

Who picked these books? Meet our 9 experts.

9 authors created a book list connected to the Stasi, and here are their favorite Stasi books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of The Picnic: A Dream of Freedom and the Collapse of the Iron Curtain

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom Author Of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink

From Jeffrey's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Essayist Historian Teacher Songwriter

Jeffrey's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom Why did Jeffrey love this book?

I’m a sucker for books about historical events that leave you keenly aware of how easily a big transformation could have turned out differently—or not happened. In this case, the end of Communist Party rule across the former Soviet Bloc is the transformation.

In providing a fresh perspective on this oft-covered subject, the author zeroes in on a small and largely forgotten incident: a picnic. It took place on the border between Hungary and Austria in 1989. It might never have happened if an Iron Curtain border guard had not decided to look the other way at a particular moment, or if Gorbachev and a Hungarian leader not met years before each took power.

The book is by a political scientist I’ve never met who demonstrates great skills as an oral historian and a flair for bringing to life the complex motivations of people who risked a lot in uncertain…

By Matthew Longo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In August 1989, a group of Hungarian activists organised a picnic on the border of Hungary and Austria. But this was not an ordinary picnic-it was located on the dangerous militarised frontier known as the Iron Curtain. Tacit permission from the highest state authorities could be revoked at any moment. On wisps of rumour, thousands of East German "vacationers" packed Hungarian campgrounds, awaiting an opportunity, fearing prison, surveilled by lurking Stasi agents.

The Pan-European Picnic set the stage for the greatest border breach in Cold War history: hundreds crossed from the Communist East to the longed-for freedom of the West.…


Book cover of The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue

Boris Volodarsky Author Of Assassins: The KGB's Poison Factory Ten Years on

From my list on intelligence history.

Who am I?

Boris B. Volodarsky is a former intelligence officer, captain of the GRU Spetsnaz, Russian special forces. With the first raising of the Iron Curtain, Boris legally left the Soviet Union with his family. After living in the West for over 30 years, he became a British academic writing books and other academic works on the subject he knew best of all – the history of intelligence. Dr. Volodarsky earned a history degree at the London School of Economics under Professor Sir Paul Preston defending his doctoral thesis there with flying colours. He is contributing articles to the leading newspapers and is often interviewed by television and radio channels in Britain and the USA.

Boris' book list on intelligence history

Boris Volodarsky Why did Boris love this book?

In 2015 Forsyth published his autobiography entitled The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue. This is another excellent book written in his usual style - full of intrigue and adventures, only this time the author himself is the main protagonist. Besides, all that Forsyth describes in this book is either true or at least very close to the truth including his admitting that for a certain period of time and in certain countries he had been acting as an agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Forsyth had ever been a spy, but he is certainly writing his spy novels as an insider.

All his books are extremely well written and must be studied by all intelligence professionals as textbooks. Usually, intelligence officers do not like reading because they think their life is so interesting and full of adventures that nothing can be more fascinating.…

By Frederick Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

FREDERICK FORSYTH HAS SEEN IT ALL. AND LIVED TO TELL THE TALE...
At eighteen, Forsyth was the youngest pilot to qualify with the RAF.
At twenty-five, he was stationed in East Berlin as a journalist during the Cold War.
Before he turned thirty, he was in Africa controversially covering the bloodiest civil war in living memory.
Three years later, broke and out of work, he wrote his game-changing first novel, The Day of the Jackal. He never looked back.
Forsyth has seen some of the most exhilarating moments of the last century from the inside, travelling the world, once or…


Book cover of In Times of Fading Light

Fiona Rintoul Author Of The Leipzig Affair

From my list on life under the Stasi.

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish journalist. In the 1980s, I studied German at Karl-Marx University in Leipzig, East Germany. It was a fascinating experience that changed my perceptions of the world. I didn’t become a communist, but I did begin to see that where you stand depends on where you sit and that principles are easy to maintain when it costs you nothing to do so. There was a bleak glamour to East Germany that I loved, and so I decided to set my first novel in the shadowy world of intense personal connections, underground artists, and unofficial informers that I’d found in Leipzig. 

Fiona's book list on life under the Stasi

Fiona Rintoul Why did Fiona love this book?

In Times of Fading Light is a masterful five-decade family saga that melds the personal and the political to create a fascinating portrait of East Germany before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Intelligent, fearless, and full of dark humor, it is both an ingeniously structured page-turner, moving back and forward in time, and a literary tour de force. Eugen Ruge was a 35-year-old playwright when the Wall fell, and In Times of Fading Light, published in 2011, was his first novel. It provides a rich understanding of how people lived and loved in East Germany that scotches both nostalgia for the old East and Western clichés. Shining a bright light into the darker corners of family dynamics, it is also a tale with universal resonance. 

By Eugen Ruge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Times of Fading Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Already hailed as a Cold War classic.' Boyd Tonkin, Independent Books of the Year

'Utterly absorbing, funny and humane. A romp through a twisted century in the heart of Europe.' Anna Funder, author of Stasiland

International bestseller and Winner of the German Book Prize

A sweeping story of one family over four generations in East Germany: the intertwining of love, life and politics under the GDR regime.


Book cover of The Architects

Fiona Rintoul Author Of The Leipzig Affair

From my list on life under the Stasi.

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish journalist. In the 1980s, I studied German at Karl-Marx University in Leipzig, East Germany. It was a fascinating experience that changed my perceptions of the world. I didn’t become a communist, but I did begin to see that where you stand depends on where you sit and that principles are easy to maintain when it costs you nothing to do so. There was a bleak glamour to East Germany that I loved, and so I decided to set my first novel in the shadowy world of intense personal connections, underground artists, and unofficial informers that I’d found in Leipzig. 

Fiona's book list on life under the Stasi

Fiona Rintoul Why did Fiona love this book?

Set in 1955-56, The Architects by German-Jewish author Stefan Heym is a rare find. It delivers a stark portrait of East Germany in the period around Khrushchev’s “secret speech” denouncing Stalin, which Heym lived through. The author uses the politics of architecture to expose hypocrisy and personal jealousy in the new “anti-Fascist” German state. At the heart of the book is a devastating personal betrayal that gives the lie to communist claims of moral superiority. Written in the 1960s’, The Architects is a searing critique of the New Germany by a convinced socialist. This helps explain why Heym wrote it in English and did not publish it until 2000, a year before his death, in his own German translation.

By Stefan Heym,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written between 1963 and 1966, when its publication would have proved to be political dynamite - and its author's undoing - this novel of political intrigue and personal betrayal takes readers into the German Democratic Republic in the late 1950s, shortly after Khruschev's ""secret speech"" denouncing Stalin and his methods brought about a ""thaw"" in the Soviet bloc and, with it, the release of many victims of Stalinist brutality. Among these is Daniel, a Communist exile from Hitler who has been accused of treachery while in Moscow and who now returns to Germany after years of imprisonment. A brilliant architect,…


Book cover of They Divided the Sky

David Blackbourn Author Of Germany in the World: A Global History, 1500-2000

From my list on German history for people who love to read novels.

Who am I?

I was born in England, live in America, and write history books about Germany. I’ve published eight books in all (and co-edited two others), and I’m proud that two of them won prizes. I review books, too, in publications like the Guardian and the London Review of Books. History is how I make my living, but it is also a calling and a passion. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have always enjoyed reading literature and find I am reading even more avidly since the pandemic. There are so many German novels I love it was hard to choose just five. I hope you enjoy my choices.

David's book list on German history for people who love to read novels

David Blackbourn Why did David love this book?

This is the best book I know (even better than a complex spy thriller!) about what the Berlin Wall meant to individual East Germans.

I first read this novel about divided lovers in a West German edition back in the 1980s, when the “other” Germany still existed. I have often used the book in classes since then because I like it so much, enjoying it more and more as I peeled back the layers, admiring how cleverly Christa Wolf interweaves the personal and political.

She talks about “this strange stuff called life,” and that is one of the things I most love about the book: how it makes things that are apparently obvious and familiar seem strange. 

By Christa Wolf, Luise Von Flotow (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked They Divided the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1963, in East Germany, They Divided the Sky tells the story of a young couple, living in the new, socialist, East Germany, whose relationship is tested to the extreme not only because of the political positions they gradually develop but, very concretely, by the Berlin Wall, which went up on August 13, 1961. The story is set in 1960 and 1961, a moment of high political cold war tension between the East Bloc and the West, a time when many thousands of people were leaving the young German Democratic Republic (the GDR) every day in order to…


Book cover of Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

Georgina Banks Author Of Back to Bangka: Searching For The Truth About A Wartime Massacre

From my list on truth-seeking post WWII.

Who am I?

I have always been interested in what makes people tick – in their unseen inner world. In my twenties, I literally embodied others in my work as an actor. In my thirties, I studied applied psychology and sat alongside others and talked. In my forties, I started my consulting business Changeable, working with group and organizational dynamics. Now in my fifties, I am accessing inner worlds through writing, placing myself imaginatively into other people and places. I have merely scratched the surface. These post-WWII books give a gripping, personal, and scorching window into truth-seeking. 

Georgina's book list on truth-seeking post WWII

Georgina Banks Why did Georgina love this book?

A young Australian, Anna Funder, places an advertisement in the newspaper to find resistors and enforcers of the brutal East German regime, the Stasi. This naïve, but bold act leads her on a path to discover tales that reverberate through time.

Similarly, I felt ill equipped to face vestiges of censored war crimes, historical documents, and fragments of memory, but, inspired by Funder’s curiosity and dedication, I pressed on.  

By Anna Funder,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Stasiland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Stasiland demonstrates that great, original reporting is still possible. . . . A heartbreaking, beautifully written book. A classic.” — Claire Tomalin, Guardian “Books of the Year”

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction: a powerfully moving account of people who heroically resisted the communist dictatorship of East Germany, and of people who worked for its secret police, the Stasi.

Anna Funder delivers a prize-winning and powerfully rendered account of the resistance against East Germany’s communist dictatorship in these harrowing, personal tales of life behind the Iron Curtain—and, especially, of life under the iron fist of the Stasi, East…


Book cover of Purity

Daniela Tully Author Of Hotel on Shadow Lake: A Spellbinding Mystery Unravelling a Century of Family Secrets

From my list on East Germany from an insider's point of view.

Who am I?

I grew up in Germany and have been living all over the globe since I was 18, including the US. I married a New Yorker 15 years ago. I am drawn to stories that combine both the German and American cultures — two worlds I feel at home in — and as reflected in my debut novel. The next one will take place between the US and East Germany - we had relatives on the other side of the Iron Curtain whom we visited frequently. I will never forget surprising my 17-year-old cousin sitting alone in the garden, crying… over a can of Coke that we had smuggled over the border to him.

Daniela's book list on East Germany from an insider's point of view

Daniela Tully Why did Daniela love this book?

First of all: am I the only one who thinks Franzen looks a bit like Stephen King? This resemblance might very well be the only thing they have in common (aside from both making a living solely with their writing). English isn’t my native language, so it probably took me a bit longer than the average native speaker to read his (long!) book - which is a stark contrast to Follett’s, and not only in terms of prose style. I had no idea that Franzen studied in Germany and is fluent in my mother language. I only looked this up after his chapter aptly titled "The Republic of Bad Taste" — Franzen’s name for East Germany.

With the character of Andreas Wolf, we’re looking into the mind of a criminal, the offspring of a high-level informant — his father. Andreas Wolf murders the sexually abusive father of a girl he…

By Jonathan Franzen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Sunday Times bestseller from the author of Freedom and The Corrections

Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother - her only family - is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she'll ever have a normal life.

Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads…


Book cover of Wolves Eat Dogs

Les Cowan Author Of Benefit of the Doubt: He Fled, Danger Followed

From my list on crime/thriller for characters and character.

Who am I?

When I first thought about crime writing I was probably too lazy to do the research on police procedures so decided instead to feature an “ordinary” character with no official role but who still intervenes when evil seems to be triumphing and nobody is paying attention. Key elements of this are reflected in my list—the importance of stories and storytelling, some great thrillers, and thoughtful consideration of why someone would put themselves in jeopardy for others. Having worked with many criminals and victims I have seen that ordinary people can make a difference. In a way my books ask the question, “What would you do in David Hidalgo’s shoes?”

Les' book list on crime/thriller for characters and character

Les Cowan Why did Les love this book?

Martin Cruz Smith’s first book in his Arkady Renko series, Gorky Park, did very well and was made into a successful film. Later books are perhaps not so well known which I think is a great pity. Smith’s books ooze atmosphere, intrigue, and authenticity taking us into other worlds—in this case, that of Russian oligarchs and the deadly exclusion zone round Chernobyl. Arkady Renko is an incorruptible investigator in a society where everyone is on the makeanother parallel I’ve found very applicable to my own work. And, unlike many thriller authors, Smith is also a brilliant writer of scintillating, gripping narrative. I’d love David Hidalgo and Arkady Renko to meet and have a chat over a few glasses of red wine, vodka, or both!

By Martin Cruz Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Don't miss the latest book in the Arkady Renko series, THE SIBERIAN DILEMMA by Martin Cruz Smith, 'the master of the international thriller' (New York Times) - available to order now!

AN ARKADY RENKO NOVEL: #5

'One of those writers that anyone who is serious about their craft views with respect bordering on awe' Val McDermid

'Makes tension rise through the page like a shark's fin' Independent

***
The iron curtain has fallen and a screen of nouveau capitalism stands in its place. Though the New Russia is foreign to Renko, the corruption and brutality that he encounters are all…


Book cover of Kairos: Roman

Fiona Rintoul Author Of The Leipzig Affair

From my list on life under the Stasi.

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish journalist. In the 1980s, I studied German at Karl-Marx University in Leipzig, East Germany. It was a fascinating experience that changed my perceptions of the world. I didn’t become a communist, but I did begin to see that where you stand depends on where you sit and that principles are easy to maintain when it costs you nothing to do so. There was a bleak glamour to East Germany that I loved, and so I decided to set my first novel in the shadowy world of intense personal connections, underground artists, and unofficial informers that I’d found in Leipzig. 

Fiona's book list on life under the Stasi

Fiona Rintoul Why did Fiona love this book?

Kairos is the story of an affair between a late-middle-aged man and a young woman set in the dying days of the German Democratic Republic. The disappearing nation is almost incidental to the main plot, which charts the peaks and troughs of an unequal and sometimes abusive relationship. For me, this light touch says everything about what it was like to live in East Germany. People were mainly just getting on with their lives, as they do everywhere. The book’s closing chapters explore emotions that were too often overlooked in the rush towards reunification: the dismay and disorientation that afflicted many East Germans, especially older ones, as their institutions were dismantled and they became foreigners in their own land. 

By Jenny Erpenbeck,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Eine ganz und gar epische Erzhlerin eine der kraftvollsten Stimmen der deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur. NZZ am Sonntag ber Jenny ErpenbeckDie neunzehnjhrige Katharina und Hans, ein verheirateter Mann Mitte fnfzig, begegnen sich Ende der achtziger Jahre in Ostberlin, zufllig, und kommen fr die nchsten Jahre nicht voneinander los. Vor dem Hintergrund der untergehenden DDR und des Umbruchs nach 1989 erzhlt Jenny Erpenbeck in ihrer unverwechselbaren Sprache von den Abgrnden des Glcks vom Weg zweier Liebender im Grenzgebiet zwischen Wahrheit und Lge, von Obsession und Gewalt, Hass und Hoffnung. Alles in ihrem Leben verwandelt sich noch in derselben Sekunde, in der es geschieht,…