The most recommended books on the Thirty Years' War

Who picked these books? Meet our 11 experts.

11 authors created a book list connected to the Thirty Years' War, and here are their favorite Thirty Years' War books.
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Book cover of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Nora Fussner Author Of The Invisible World

From my list on female protagonists who have magical powers.

Who am I?

When I was researching my novel, I learned why so many psychics are women: Spiritualism, founded in the 19th century, had both an intense following (more than 8 million followers in the late 1800s) and gave women equal importance to men, one of the few religions at the time (or since) to do so. Even today, women’s pain is dismissed by doctors disproportionately to that of men; women’s testimony is scrutinized more closely than that of men. I love books that invest women with abilities that seem super-human, perhaps as compensation for unequal access to resources. These books keep one foot in the real, one in the fantastic.

Nora's book list on female protagonists who have magical powers

Nora Fussner Why did Nora love this book?

I’ve been to Salem, Massachusetts; I’ve read Stacy Schiff’s book about the witch trials. We sometimes forget in the USA that there were witch trials in Europe, as well, such as the real one Galchen’s novel is based on.

In 17th century Germany, the mother of Johannes Kepler, one of the fathers of modern astronomy, is accused of by a neighbor of witchcraft, sending the entire town into disarray. Although Galchen draws on historical documents, the narration feels contemporary, as neighbors use accusations of witchcraft as revenge for petty grievances.

I recommend this novel for anyone who checks Nextdoor for the tea.

By Rivka Galchen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The startling, witty, highly anticipated second novel from the critically acclaimed author of Atmospheric Disturbances.

The story begins in 1618, in the German duchy of Württemberg. Plague is spreading. The Thirty Years' War has begun, and fear and suspicion are in the air throughout the Holy Roman Empire. In the small town of Leonberg, Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch.

Katharina is an illiterate widow, known by her neighbors for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, who is the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. It's…

Book cover of Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War

Katja Hoyer Author Of Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire; 1871-1918

From my list on German history that aren't about the Nazis.

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. 

Katja's book list on German history that aren't about the Nazis

Katja Hoyer Why did Katja love this book?

It is impossible to understand Germany or indeed continental Europe without understanding the horrific conflict that raged on its soil during the first half of the 17th century. One of the most devastating conflicts ever fought in Europe, it tore communities and families apart along dynastic, religious, and political lines. Famine and disease added to the horrors of war, depopulating regions in Germany by up to two-thirds of pre-war levels. The conflict left a deep scar in German collective memory, the consequences of which can still be seen in religious, linguistic, and cultural divisions today. It was a collective experience of trauma with loud echoes in the 19th and 20th centuries. Wilson’s excellent work remains the best overview in English.

By Peter H. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award 2011

The horrific series of conflicts known as the Thirty Years War (1618-48) tore the heart out of Europe, killing perhaps a quarter of all Germans and laying waste to whole areas of Central Europe to such a degree that many towns and regions never recovered. All the major European powers apart from Russia were heavily involved and, while each country started out with rational war aims, the fighting rapidly spiralled out of control, with great battles giving way to marauding bands of starving soldiers spreading plague and murder. The…

Book cover of The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich

Cathal J. Nolan Author Of Mercy: Humanity in War

From my list on how wars are won and lost.

Who am I?

I'm an award-winning teacher and writer who introduces students and readers to war in a profession that today is at best indifferent to military history, and more often hostile. That gives me a wry sense of irony, as colleagues would rather teach about fashion than fascism and truffles over tragedy. Having written a multiple award-winning book that covered 2,000 years of war, frankly I was sickened by how the same mistakes were made over and again. It has made me devoted to exploring possibilities for humane behavior within the most inhumane and degraded moral environment humanity creates; where individuality is subsumed in collective violence and humanity is obscured as a faceless, merciless enemy.

Cathal's book list on how wars are won and lost

Cathal J. Nolan Why did Cathal love this book?

Connects military gamblers from Frederick II to Hitler, demonstrating that “rolling the iron dice of destiny” (Bismarck) by starting wars they hoped would be short but even though they knew they could not win if they went long instead, was always the German national tradition. I learned a great deal from this key book about the irrationalities of decisions made to go to war, contrary to the assumption in most analysis that decision-makers weigh the odds with care. And how many wars are started with a roll of the dice and without a real plan to win them? Or at least, no Plan B once Plan A goes awry, as it always does. 

By Robert M. Citino,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For Frederick the Great, the prescription for warfare was simple: kurz und vives ("short and lively")-wars that relied upon swift, powerful, and decisive military operations. Robert Citino takes us on a dramatic march through Prussian and German military history to show how that primal theme played out time and time again.

Citino focuses on operational warfare to demonstrate continuity in German military campaigns from the time of Elector Frederick Wilhelm and his great "sleigh-drive" against the Swedes to the age of Adolf Hitler and the blitzkrieg to the gates of Moscow. Along the way, he underscores the role played by…

Book cover of The Thirty Years War

Laurence W. Marvin Author Of The Occitan War: A Military and Political History of the Albigensian Crusade, 1209–1218

From my list on premodern western warfare.

Who am I?

From my earliest memories I’ve always been interested in military history, and as a young man I served in the U.S. Navy on a nuclear submarine. As an ardent bibliophile, my home and office overflows with books. As a professor, for the past 25 years I’ve been fortunate enough to teach a broad survey on western military history, which gives me the opportunity to experiment with many books for my own and the students’ enjoyment. The books on this list are perennial favorites of the traditional-age undergraduates (18-22) I teach, but will appeal to any reader interested in premodern military history. 

Laurence's book list on premodern western warfare

Laurence W. Marvin Why did Laurence love this book?

Wedgewood published this in 1938, on the cusp of World War II.

In many ways the disaster that was the Thirty Years war provided an allegory of what was to come. Many authors have tackled this subject since Wedgewood wrote, some far more massive than her 500 pages, but there’s a reason this one remains in print. Wedgewood wrote an eminently readable narrative that is as delightful to read as its subject is dreadful. She excelled at what narrative should provide: a sense of development, how a huge event happens from beginning to end, all while keeping the reader’s attention. 

Wedgewood conveyed the nastiness, carnage, and utter craziness of the conflict in a dispassionate, easily understandable way.

By C.V. Wedgwood,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Thirty Years War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Europe in 1618 was riven between Protestants and Catholics, Bourbon and Hapsburg--as well as empires, kingdoms, and countless principalities. After angry Protestants tossed three representatives of the Holy Roman Empire out the window of the royal castle in Prague, world war spread from Bohemia with relentless abandon, drawing powers from Spain to Sweden into a nightmarish world of famine, disease, and seemingly unstoppable destruction.

Book cover of The Art of War in Western World

Charles S. Oliviero Author Of Praxis Tacticum: The Art, Science and Practice of Military Tactics

From my list on military tactical thinking.

Who am I?

I spent 40 years as a soldier studying war. After graduation from Royal Military College, I joined the Armoured Corps. Throughout history, we have regaled each other with stories of war. From Greek myths to Norse sagas to modern movies, we cannot seem to get enough of war stories. And yet, we know that war is inherently a bad idea. It is evil. It is a form of collective madness. War is destructive and cruel, unworthy of our better selves. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, war breaks the bonds of our affection and does not speak to our better angels. I study it in order to better understand this madness.

Charles' book list on military tactical thinking

Charles S. Oliviero Why did Charles love this book?

If you are to be a serious student of war, warfare, and tactics, then you will need a general reference guide. This book should be your go-to reference for general knowledge on this subject. Jones elegantly combines three major components of war (tactics, strategy, and logistics) to explain the last 2,500 years of military history, from phalanxes in ancient Greece through to the Thirty Years’ War that shaped modern Europe. Well written and thoroughly researched, I have kept it on my desk for the last thirty years.

By Archer Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of War in Western World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The magnum opus of one of America's most respected military historians, "The Art of War in the Western World" has earned its place as the standard work on how the three major operational components of war - tactics, logistics, and strategy - have evolved and changed over time. This monumental work encompasses 2,500 years of military history, from infantry combat in ancient Greece through the dissolution of the Roman Empire to the Thirty Years' War and from the Napoleonic campaigns through World War II, which Jones sees as the culmination of modern warfare, to the Israeli-Egyptian War of 1973".

Book cover of Coping with Life during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)

Peter H. Wilson Author Of Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500

From my list on German military history saying something different.

Who am I?

I have been drawn to the history of the German lands ever since I opened a historical atlas as a child and wondered why the middle of Europe was a colorful patchwork compared to the solid blocks depicting other countries. I then wondered how the people living under this multitude of authorities could manage their affairs, resolve differences, and defend themselves against each other and outsiders. Digging deeper into these questions has unearthed fascinating stories, not all of them pleasant, but which also shed light on the complexities of our shared existence. 

Peter's book list on German military history saying something different

Peter H. Wilson Why did Peter love this book?

The Thirty Years War remains seared into the popular consciousness across Germany and Austria as a momentous catastrophe against which other conflicts are still measured.

The conflict was indeed terrible, yet its impact was uneven across time, place, social status, and gender.

Sigrun Haude writes sympathetically about how ordinary people coped with calamity whilst skillfully weaving individual stories with the wider dynamic of military and political events. 

By Sigrun Haude,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Coping with Life during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At its core, Coping with Life during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) explores how people tried to survive the Thirty Years' War, on what resources they drew, and how they attempted to make sense of it. A rich tapestry of stories brings to light contemporaries' trauma as well as women and men's unrelenting initiatives to stem the war's negative consequences. Through these close-ups, Sigrun Haude shows that experiences during the Thirty Years' War were much more diverse and often more perplexing than a straightforward story line of violence and destruction can capture. Life during the Thirty Years' War was not…

Book cover of The Betrothed: The Great Plague of Milan

Tom Pugh Author Of The Lord of Worlds

From Tom's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Novelist Historian Book lover

Tom's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Tom Pugh Why did Tom love this book?

This is a recommendation for everyone who loves big nineteenth-century novels. The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni was new to me in 2023 – and just what I needed to get me through the long winter nights.

Written in the 1820s and 30s and set two hundred years earlier, the novel opens with an act of moral cowardice. An innocent couple is torn apart at the whim of a nobleman. In the way of all the best nineteenth-century novels, we only discover whether their love is strong enough to reunite them after numerous mishaps, adventures, and digressions.

Again and again, Manzoni shows how people can always be relied on to make a bad situation worse. At times, the book feels like it could have been written yesterday!

By Alessandro Manzoni,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Betrothed ("I Promessi Sposi") is one of the greatest European historical novels. As its title impies, it an epic love story in Lombardy on the late 1620s. It is no spoiler to say, and you will be relieved to know, that the two young lovers eventually marry.

But it is what happens along that way that makes The Betrothed so engaging and instructive. The Betrothed fictionalizes in great detail the historical realities of the Thirty Years War and the Great Plague that struck Milan around 1630.

"They heard with a smile of incredulity and contempt any who hazarded a…

Book cover of Scotland: The Global History: 1603 to the Present

Billy Kay Author Of The Scottish World: A Journey Into the Scottish Diaspora

From my list on proving the world, and the Universe, is Scottish.

Who am I?

Very little Scottish history or culture was taught in school when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. When I began to read books on the subject from the local library and then studied Scottish literature at Edinburgh University, I realised what my brother and sister Scots had missed out on, and was determined to rectify that by writing accessible books which would both inform and entertain as well as enrich their lives and change the way they perceived their culture. I love their reaction to my work and the influence my books have had. 

Billy's book list on proving the world, and the Universe, is Scottish

Billy Kay Why did Billy love this book?

In terms of Scottish political and cultural history, this is a hugely important book that will astonish and delight everyone engaged in the matter of Scotland. What impresses is the range and scope of Murray Pittock’s global vision for Scotland, but what engages is the minute human detail of the people in the diaspora that he reveals to us, positive and negative. This is the polar opposite of dry history, it is a magisterial work that Scots will actively return to again and again, as we redefine our role in Europe and the world in the 21st Century. I have interviewed Murray for several BBC programmes and he has always come across as a brilliant communicator, who like me, is passionate about Scotland.

By Murray Pittock,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An engaging and authoritative history of Scotland's influence in the world and the world's on Scotland, from the Thirty Years War to the present day

Scotland is one of the oldest nations in the world, yet by some it is hardly counted as a nation at all. Neither a colony of England nor a fully equal partner in the British union, Scotland's history has often been seen as simply a component part of British history. But the story of Scotland is one of innovation, exploration, resistance-and global consequence.

In this wide-ranging, deeply researched account, Murray Pittock examines the place of…

Book cover of Tyll

John Dalton Author Of Heaven Lake

From my list on that take you on extraordinary journeys.

Who am I?

I am the author of two novels, and I currently teach fiction writing in the MFA program at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. I’ve long been fascinated with journeys both real and literary. In the early 1990’s I lived in Taiwan and traveled across China—from Guangzhou to the far northwestern desert province of Xinjiang, an extraordinary journey that informed my first novel. 

John's book list on that take you on extraordinary journeys

John Dalton Why did John love this book?

A true marvel of a novel. It follows the famous jester Tyll Ulenspiegel and the Winter Queen and several learned and lethal Jesuit priests (among others). Most novels that cut between storylines lose momentum and direction. Tyll takes bold leaps and keeps transforming into new adventures, new truths, a new vision of the seventieth century that subtly mixes historical fact and magical possibility.  

By Daniel Kehlmann, Ross Benjamin (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A masterly achievement, a work of imaginative grandeur and complete artistic control' Ian McEwan

'Brilliant and unputdownable' Salman Rushdie

He's a trickster, a player, a jester. His handshake's like a pact with the devil, his smile like a crack in the clouds; he's watching you now and he's gone when you turn. Tyll Ulenspiegel is here!

In a village like every other village in Germany, a scrawny boy balances on a rope between two trees. He's practising. He practises by the mill, by the blacksmiths; he practises in the forest at night, where the Cold Woman whispers and goblins roam.…