When we think of German history, our first thoughts jump to the First and Second World Wars. These chapters in Germany’s history are incredibly important, though it can be confusing to know what to read or how to navigate the wealth of material available for a fresh exploration of the impact of the wars on society, culture, and the lives of ordinary people. It also excludes other important aspects of Germany’s history.
Below are 10 books that we recommend if you want to learn something new about Germany’s past, but don’t know where to begin.
1. Networks of Modernity: Germany in the Age of the Telegraph, 1830-1880
This book offers insight into the origins of the “communications revolution” in nineteenth-century Germany and discusses arguably the most important technology of the time: the telegraph.
The invention of this revolutionary piece of technology impacted trade, finance, news distribution, and government in the tumultuous decades that witnessed the 1848 revolutions, the wars of unification, and the establishment of the Kaiserreich in 1871.
2. The Ambivalence of Gay Liberation: Male Homosexual Politics in 1970s West Germany
Shortlisted for the RHS Gladstone Book Prize by the Royal Historical Society, The Ambivalence of Gay Liberation clears up myths about the gay pride movement and tells the stories of the groups that were part of it.
Craig Grifiths explores the ways that being queer was talked and thought about in 1970s German 1970s—a period sandwiching the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1969 and the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
3. Prostitution and Subjectivity in Late Medieval Germany
In medieval Germany, prostitutes were viewed as sinful, the risks and dangers faced by women ignored. Yet the period also saw a rise in prostitution that was tolerated by society. This book examines how prostitution in the Middle Ages allowed—and disallowed—women to exert agency within their own lives and in response to official attempts to regulate sexual behaviour.
4. Our Gigantic Zoo: A German Quest to Save the Serengeti
The Seregenti has become an internationally renowned African conservation site and one of the most iconic destinations for a safari. How?
In Our Gigantic Zoo, winner of the DAAD Book Prize of the German Studies Association, Thomas M. Lekan illuminates the controversial origins of this national park by examining how Europe’s greatest wildlife conservationist, former Frankfurt Zoo director and Oscar-winning documentarian Bernhard Grzimek, popularized it as a global destination.
5. Through the Lion Gate: A History of the Berlin Zoo
Through the Lion Gate is the first book in the English language to present the history of the Berlin zoo and its importance over a 150-year period.
From exciting stories about animals, including that of the hippo who survived the bombing of 1943 and consequently became an icon of Berlin, to how Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring led the Nazis to promote animal protection laws to spread their ideology, discover the history of the Berlin Zoo.
6. Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis
This book provides an explanation as to how and why millions of leaders and ordinary citizens in a well-educated, cultured nation adopted an extremist and murderous ideology that culminated in the Holocaust and the Second World War.
It examines the Third Reich and how ordinary people came to believe that Hitler was a “necessary leader” who could create a select “community of the people” to achieve national renewal.
7. The Gestapo: Power and Terror in the Third Reich
The Nazis’ notorious secret police force, the Gestapo, was the epitome of terror and oppression. This book challenges the many myths that have surrounded the organisation, highlights just how powerful and all-knowing they were, and outlines the Gestapo’s history from its early years in the Weimar Republic, through the crimes of the Nazi era, to its demise in the post-war world.
8. Before the Holocaust: Antisemitic Violence and the Reaction of German Elites and Institutions during the Nazi Takeover
Following the Nazi takeover in 1933, antisemitic violence soared. It has widely been assumed that the violence, including boycotts, violent attacks, robbery, extortion, abductions, and humiliating “pillory marches”, and the escalation to grievous bodily harm and murder, occurred long after the takeover. Before the Holocaust argues that this isn’t the case: it began before.
9. Misfire: The Sarajevo Assassination and the Winding Road to World War I
This book coherently situates the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Habsburg Empire, in a broad historical context. The author inserts the incident in the longer-term conditions of the Balkans that gave rise to the political murder, illuminating how the Bosnian Crisis and the Balkan Wars of the early twentieth century were central to European power politics.
10. Austria 1867-1955
Drawing on archival resources taken from diaries, administrative reports, autobiographies, diplomatic archives, and Cabinet minutes, Austria 1867-1955 is the first book to comprehensively analyse the political history of modern Austria, connecting the Imperial and Republican periods in one clear narrative. It also addresses why, after 1945, Austrians refused to come to terms with their nation’s involvement in the Nazi regime of the Third Reich.