The best books about Warsaw

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Warsaw and why they recommend each book.

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The Silver Sword

By Ian Serraillier,

Book cover of The Silver Sword: A BBC Radio Full-Cast Dramatisation

Another real thriller that I still find exciting and completely compelling. After losing their parents in the chaos of war, three children are left alone to fend for themselves. While hiding from the Nazis amid the rubble of a ruined city, they meet a ragged orphan who shows them his ‘treasure,’ an old paperknife. Clearly the silver sword of the title, this was entrusted to him by an escaped prisoner of war but the children recognise it and realise the escapee must be their father. Taking the ‘sword’ as a message that he is alive, they set out to search for him. As a historian, I always try to smuggle education into my own books by disguising it as entertainment, and this book does that brilliantly.

The Silver Sword

By Ian Serraillier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A BBC radio full-cast dramatisation of Ian Serraillier's classic wartime story.

When the Germans march into Poland in 1941, the Balickis' happy family life is shattered. With their parents taken away by Nazis, Ruth, Edek and Bronia are forced to fend for themselves in the dangerous, war-ravaged city of Warsaw.

When Edek is captured too, the girls are desperate. Then they meet orphaned street urchin Jan, who carries with him a talisman of hope: a silver sword paperknife that they recognise as having belonged to their mother.

Realising that their parents may still be alive, Ruth and Bronia set off…


Who am I?

Although as an adult I very much prefer true-life adventures to fictional ones – it’s why I wrote Heroes and Rescue, as well as Survivors – many of the most enjoyable books I read as a child were fictional accounts of daring and danger, mostly if not entirely centred on children with whom I could identify. I found them inspiring and still do, and can’t help feeling that if after nearly 50 years I can still remember so many of the details – and, trust me, I really can - the authors of these five must really have known what they were up to. I really hope no one will be put off them because of their age because I feel they have genuinely stood the test of time.


I wrote...

Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

By David Long, Kerry Hyndman (illustrator),

Book cover of Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

What is my book about?

When it comes to extreme stories of survival few can match these inspirational tales of genuine courage, heroism, and ingenuity. Ranging from Africa to the Antarctic, from classics such as Ernest Shackleton to the crew of Apollo 13 and the man who inspired the movie 127 Hours, these incredible real-life adventures describe how ordinary men, women, and children faced down dangers and were able to achieve extraordinary things by drawing on their strength, bravery, and self-belief. We can all accomplish more than we think can, and Survivors shows how it’s done.

The Cats in Krasinski Square

By Karen Hesse, Wendy Watson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Cats in Krasinski Square

It would be hard to find a better, more beautiful picture book to introduce young children to the Holocaust. The lyrical prose and haunting illustrations tell the story of a young Jewish girl and her older sister who have escaped the ghetto and live as non-Jewish Poles. Now they’re part of the resistance and devise ways to smuggle food into the ghetto. The latest plan involves a train carrying resistance members with suitcases filled with food to be smuggled in. But word comes that the Gestapo has learned of the plan and is waiting at the station with their dogs. The girl and her sister, along with their friends, quickly gather up the many cats in Krasinski Square and let them loose just as the passengers pour out of the train. Chaos erupts. Dogs chase the cats, the soldiers chase the dogs, and the smuggled food reaches the ghetto walls.…

The Cats in Krasinski Square

By Karen Hesse, Wendy Watson (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I grew up on Chicago’s home front during WW2. President Roosevelt wanted everyone—adults and children—to do their part for the war effort. So we neighborhood kids formed a Victory club, where we marched around singing, “Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor,” and other patriotic songs. And though we had fun, we understood the meaning of the gold stars in the windows, and knew that terrible things were happening on the other side of the world. There are so many wonderful books set during this time period, and I can never read enough of them. These books, along with my memories, are what inspire me to write historical fiction of my own.


I wrote...

My Chocolate Year: A Novel with 12 Recipes

By Charlotte Herman, LeUyen Pham (illustrator),

Book cover of My Chocolate Year: A Novel with 12 Recipes

What is my book about?

It’s 1945, Chicago, and Dorrie Meyers is starting fifth grade. This is the year of her teacher’s annual baking and essay contest, Sweet Semester. The winners will get their names and pictures published in the Chicago Daily News, and money collected from the baked goods will go to feed hungry children in Europe. Dorrie is determined to win. And she knows one thing for sure. Whatever she bakes, it has to be chocolate. In time, Dorrie meets her cousin Victor, an immigrant from Europe, who has survived the Holocaust. And he is about to teach Dorrie that a loving family and a safe homeland are the sweetest things of all. With some top-secret tips from Victor’s family’s bakery, Dorrie might just have the sweetest year of her life.

Mila 18

By Leon Uris,

Book cover of Mila 18

Although not mentioned as often as some of his other masterpieces, in Mila 18 Uris spins an unforgettable tale that deftly combines fiction and nonfiction in a way few authors have been able to match. It is a truly unforgettable rendering of the events involved in the 1943 uprising against the Nazis in the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw. Like the other four I am recommending, this book was one that truly touched my soul. Mila 18 provides incredible insight into people’s determination to stand up against their fates in even the direst of circumstances. It is well worth the read.

Mila 18

By Leon Uris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mila 18 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I have a keen interest in history. I have been fortunate enough to have lived a life filled with wide-ranging experiences. I have lived in the smallest of towns and the largest of cities. At one time or another, I have called eight different states, Europe, and Asia home. As an Army veteran, I am driven to work on stories based on my own experiences and observations of the world we live in. It’s that insight that I hope comes across vividly in The Red Line.


I wrote...

The Red Line

By Walt Gragg,

Book cover of The Red Line

What is my book about?

World War III explodes in seconds when a resurgent Russian Empire launches a deadly armored thrust into the heart of Germany. With a powerful blizzard providing cover, Russian tanks thunder down the autobahns. Standing against them are the woefully undermanned American forces. What they lack in numbers they make up for in superior weapons and training. But before the sun rises they are on the run across a smoking battlefield crowded with corpses.
 
Any slim hope for victory rests with one unlikely hero. Army Staff Sergeant George O'Neill, a communications specialist, may be able to reestablish links that have been severed by hostile forces, but that will take time. While he works, it's up to hundreds of individual American soldiers to hold back the enemy flood.

The Pianist

By Wladyslaw Szpilman, Anthea Bell (translator),

Book cover of The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945

Yes! We all saw the movie, but did you know that it began as a memoir written by Szpilman to document his life during WWII? If you didn’t, pick up this book. You will be there, by Szpilman’s side as he fights for survival, and his first-person narrative allows us to see the ghetto and Poland through his eyes. 

The Pianist

By Wladyslaw Szpilman, Anthea Bell (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The powerful and bestselling memoir of a young Jewish pianist who survived the war in Warsaw against all odds. Made into a Bafta and Oscar-winning film.

'You can learn more about human nature from this brief account of the survival of one man throughout the war years in the devastated city of Warsaw than from several volumes of the average encyclopaedia' Independent on Sunday

'We are drawn in to share his surprise and then disbelief at the horrifying progress of events, all conveyed with an understated intimacy and dailiness that render them painfully close - riveting' Observer

'A book so…


Who am I?

My passion for writing historical fiction set mainly in Poland, or including Polish protagonists is born from my own familial history. My grandfather was forced into the Wehrmacht as a young man, who managed to escape to the UK and join the Polish Army in exile, eventually going back to fight against the Germans. His story set me on a course to become a historical fiction author; reimagining the past and bringing little-known stories to a wider audience. I find that the best way to gain a basic understanding of Polish life during WWII is to read widely – try historical accounts, memoirs, second-hand accounts, and of course, historical fiction. 


I wrote...

All the Courage We Have Found

By Carly Schabowski,

Book cover of All the Courage We Have Found

What is my book about?

As Kasia creeps out of the farmhouse in the dead of night to transmit an urgent message, her heart pounds in her chest. Gripping her radio tightly in her hand, she feels a terrible sense of dread.

Crouching in the shadows, with trembling fingers she turns the dial on her radio and hears the familiar crackle of static. Shaking, she quickly taps out her message and, holding her breath, she waits in the darkness. Suddenly, she sees a quick flash of light out at sea. Her message has been received by the Allied boats; now they know it’s not safe to come ashore tonight. While Kasia knows her messages might save thousands of soldiers, she also knows that her radio signal could bring the Germans terrifyingly close.

Book cover of The Diary of Laura's Twin

This story effectively unites the present with the past. Two girls anticipate their Bat Mitzvah in very different circumstances. Laura learns to appreciate the freedoms she has to make her own choices through the past life of a girl the same age as her but facing severe limitations. It is a thought-provoking book for young teens.

The Diary of Laura's Twin

By Kathy Kacer,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I am a child of Holocaust survivors. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I truly appreciated the horrendous circumstances that they lived through. But even more than their plight and will to survive, I was impressed with the heroism of the people willing to sacrifice their lives in order to help others. It is their story, above all else that I want to tell in my books.


I wrote...

Ivan's Choice

By Kathy Clark,

Book cover of Ivan's Choice

What is my book about?

“I’m not Hendrik,” he said. “I am Jakob. Jakob Kohn. And I am a Jew!” Ivan and Hendrik have been best friends for years. Then in the fall of 1944, when they are both 13, Hendrik makes an astounding revelation which forces Ivan to make some very difficult choices - choices that will impact both of their lives, and the lives of their families forever. Ivan must now maneuver through the intricacies of life in Nazi - occupied Hungary and within his own family without giving away his secret allegiance.

Ivan’s Choice is a companion book to The Choice, giving Ivan’s side of the story. It is a story of courage and the inner conflict that many young people confront when establishing the values they want to live by. Ivan's Choice is a novel inspired by real events.

The Spies of Warsaw

By Alan Furst,

Book cover of The Spies of Warsaw

Reading a novel by Alan Furst is like seeing Casablanca for the first time, if it were written by Hemingway. There’s that same evocative atmosphere of people smoking cigarettes, having affairs, making sophisticated remarks, while looming over them is the war. Furst mines a narrow niche. All of his books are set in Europe either during World War Two or in the Thirties, with the war threatening. The protagonist here is Colonel Mercier, military attaché at the French embassy in Warsaw. Mercier must navigate the salons and alleyways of Warsaw against all manner of spies and German agents. The book is also an exploration of love in a desperate time through Mercier’s affair with the beautiful Anna, a Polish lawyer. It’s very good. Furst is always good. 

The Spies of Warsaw

By Alan Furst,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Spies of Warsaw as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I never planned to be a spy thriller writer. One day an editor suggested I write genre fiction. “Pick a genre you read just for fun,” he said. For me, that was spy novels. I had some background (military intelligence, journalist in Europe, Africa, etc.) and John Le Carré had shown that spy novels could be serious fiction. An encounter in the Amazon jungle sparked my first spy thriller, Hour of the Assassins. Then came Scorpion, Homeland, and the rest. What’s the attraction? Intelligence agents lie better than most because their lives depend on it. But if you dig hard enough, you get small truths. Big ones too.


I wrote...

Blue Madagascar

By Andrew Kaplan,

Book cover of Blue Madagascar

What is my book about?

Casey Ramirez was a throwaway kid from the mean streets of Central Los Angeles. Now a Homeland Security Special Agent, the future of America may depend on what she does next.

A Presidential candidate commits suicide, and no one knows why. A mysterious man is killed during a jewel heist on the French Riviera. Intelligence agencies around the world are scrambling. U.S. Homeland Security sends Casey, the one woman who might be able to solve the secret of Blue Madagascar before it's too late. The trail will lead her on a cat-and-mouse chase across Europe. But others are interested—and they will kill to get it.

Book cover of Modernity and the Holocaust

This is a profound and disturbing work written after reading his wife’s account of how she, her mother and sister, all of Jewish origin, survived the Nazi/war years in Warsaw (Winter in the Morning by Janina Bauman (1986)). Bauman exposes the popular fallacy that the Holocaust was a singular event, an unfortunate tear in the fabric of civilization, demonstrating with devastating clarity that it was, in fact, a (logical) product of modernism: “Without modern civilization and its most central essential achievements, there would be no Holocaust”.

Modernity and the Holocaust

By Zygmunt Bauman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A new afterword to this edition, "The Duty to Remember-But What?" tackles difficult issues of guilt and innocence on the individual and societal levels. Zygmunt Bauman explores the silences found in debates about the Holocaust, and asks what the historical facts of the Holocaust tell us about the hidden capacities of present-day life. He finds great danger in such phenomena as the seductiveness of martyrdom; going to extremes in the name of safety; the insidious effects of tragic memory; and efficient, "scientific" implementation of the death penalty. Bauman writes, "Once the problem of the guilt of the Holocaust perpetrators has…

Who am I?

I was born and raised in rural Western Australia, married young, traveled with my geologist husband in the Outback until our children were born, and was settling down to becoming a housewife and mother in a Perth suburb when an Indian guru crossed my path. In no time at all, I packed up my family and we moved to India. Four years later I followed my guru when he went to America, and four years after that, I found myself behind bars. Understanding what led me there, and facing the consequences, was to occupy me for many years to come. I continue to have a deep and abiding interest in what makes us tick and why we do the things we do.


I wrote...

Breaking the Spell: My Life as a Rajneeshee and the Long Journey Back to Freedom

By Jane Stork,

Book cover of Breaking the Spell: My Life as a Rajneeshee and the Long Journey Back to Freedom

What is my book about?

Breaking the Spell is Jane Stork's extraordinary life story. Equally moving and disturbing, it chronicles the rise and fall of the religion of Rajneeshism and the Rolls Royce guru, and Jane's part in the events that led to its collapse.

A Rich Brew

By Shachar M. Pinsker,

Book cover of A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture

Pinsker’s A Rich Brew combines Jewish history and the literary history of modernist fiction as a way of studying the social history of café culture in five cities with large Jewish populations: Odessa, Warsaw, Vienna, New York City, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Café culture from the mid-nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century was particularly associated with Jewry and with modernism. This book helps us understand why this elective affinity between Jews, modernism and coffee developed in the way in which it did. Discerning readers will also find references to loads of novels, stories, and journalism from the era that are worth reading in their own right.

A Rich Brew

By Shachar M. Pinsker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Finalist, 2018 National Jewish Book Award for Modern Jewish Thought and Experience, presented by the Jewish Book Council
Winner, 2019 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award, in the Jewish Literature and Linguistics Category, given by the Association for Jewish Studies
A fascinating glimpse into the world of the coffeehouse and its role in shaping modern Jewish culture
Unlike the synagogue, the house of study, the community center, or the Jewish deli, the cafe is rarely considered a Jewish space. Yet, coffeehouses profoundly influenced the creation of modern Jewish culture from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. With roots stemming from the Ottoman Empire,…


Who am I?

I went to college in Portland, Oregon when the Pacific northwest’s coffee boom was just getting started. My love of coffee turned academic as I began to research and write what would turn out to be a prize-winning book on the early history of coffee and coffeehouses in Great Britain: The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse (2005). I’ve continued to publish articles on coffee history and the history of sociability ever since, and I regularly teach a research seminar on the history of coffee at McGill University. Now I serve as president of the board of directors for an international research group on the history of sociability.


I wrote...

The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse

By Brian Cowan,

Book cover of The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse

What is my book about?

What induced the British to adopt foreign coffee-drinking customs in the seventeenth century? Why did an entirely new social institution, the coffeehouse, emerge as the primary place for consumption of this new drink? Brian Cowan finds the answers to these questions in the particularly British combination of curiosity, commerce, and civil society. Cowan provides the definitive account of the origins of coffee drinking and coffeehouse society, and in so doing he reshapes our understanding of the early modern commercial and consumer revolutions in Britain.

Empowering Revolution

By Gregory F. Domber,

Book cover of Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War

Domber details how Americans aided and supported the Polish trade union movement Solidarity in the 1980s and the ways U.S. assistance was effective in aiding Poland’s democratic transition. Importantly, in Domber’s account, it was the Polish opposition, leading by moral example, who became heroes to Americans inside and outside the government, and American officials in Washington and Warsaw who looked to Solidarity for guidance on U.S. policy rather than the reverse.

Empowering Revolution

By Gregory F. Domber,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As the most populous country in Eastern Europe as well as the birthplace of the largest anticommunist dissident movement, Poland is crucial in understanding the end of the Cold War. During the 1980s, both the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence over Poland's politically tumultuous steps toward democratic revolution. In this groundbreaking history, Gregory F. Domber examines American policy toward Poland and its promotion of moderate voices within the opposition, while simultaneously addressing the Soviet and European influences on Poland's revolution in 1989. With a cast including Reagan, Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II, Domber charts American…

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by Russian history and American-Soviet relations since high school. Now at American University’s School of International Service, I teach courses on the history of U.S. foreign relations, the Cold War, as well as human rights and U.S. foreign policy. I have written two books on the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, including Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network and From Selma to Moscow: How U.S. Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy. When I’m not working, I love a good Cold War TV series (Deutschland 83 or The Americans).


I wrote...

Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

By Sarah B. Snyder,

Book cover of Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

What is my book about?

Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War helps us understand how decades of international conflict ended peacefully.  My book demonstrates the significance of collective and individual human rights advocacy in ending the Cold War, offering important lessons in affecting nonviolent political change and resolving seemingly intractable international struggles. It reveals how a range of individuals and groups committed to human rights in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe fundamentally reshaped East-West diplomacy.  

My book shows how diplomats and human rights activists involved in a series of international conferences directly and indirectly influenced both Western and Eastern governments to pursue policies that facilitated the rise of organized dissent in Eastern Europe, freedom of movement for East Germans, and improved human rights practices in the Soviet Union – all factors in the end of the Cold War. 

Flights

By Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft (translator),

Book cover of Flights

There are dozens of journeys contained within this unclassifiable work of fiction. With each episode or story or exploration, the reader begins to perceive how travel transforms and erases us, even as it shows us the true strangeness of the world. If that sounds vague, then I’d say that you don’t read Flights for its many stories, as you do for Tokarczuk’s quiet, steely, attuned prose and exhilarating ideas.  

Flights

By Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft (translator),

Why should I read it?

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


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. 


I wrote...

Heaven Lake

By John Dalton,

Book cover of Heaven Lake

What is my book about?

When Vincent Saunders – fresh out of college in the States – arrives in Taiwan as a Christian volunteer and English teacher, he meets a wealthy Taiwanese businessman who wishes to marry a young woman living in China near Heaven Lake but is thwarted by political conflict. Mr. Gwa wonders: In exchange for money, will Vincent travel to China, take part in a counterfeit marriage, and bring the woman back to Taiwan for Gwa to marry legitimately? What follows is not just an exhilarating sometimes harrowing journey to a remote city in China, but an exploration of love, loneliness, and the nature of faith.

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