Books 
Art & History

Annotated Mona Lisa

In something under 200 pages, Strickland manages to explain 30,000 years of art history. Heavily illustrated, clear, concise and never dull.


Austria

Modern Austria: Empire and Republic

Beginning with the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and extending to the elections in November of 1986, this history of modern Austria has been written for the general reader and the student wishing an overview of the country's recent history. The main emphasis is on political history and foreign policy, but attention is paid to the cultural history of Austria, focusing particularly on Vienna, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.



The Third Man

This suspense-filled spy novel takes place in post-WWII Vienna. Rollo Martins'is the writer of cheap paperback Westerns, but when his old friend Harry Lime invites him to Vienna, he jumps at the chance. With exactly five pounds in his pocket, he arrives only just in time to make it to his friend's funeral. The victim of an apparently banal street accident, the late Mr. Lime, it seems, had been the focus of a criminal investigation, suspected of nothing less than being "the worst racketeer who ever made a dirty living in this city." Martins is determined to clear his friend's name, and begins an investigation of his own



The Emperor’s Tomb

The Emperor's Tomb is a nostalgic, haunting elegy for the end of youth and the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A continuation of the saga of the von Trotta family from Roth's The Radetzky March, it is both a powerful and moving look at a decaying society and its journey through the War and its devastating aftermath, and the story of the erosion of one man's desperate faith in the virtues of a simple life.



The Good Soldier Svejk

One of the great classics of Czech literature. Svejk is a lowly private serving in the WWI army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the hapless Svejk bumbles from one misadventure to the next, all in an effort to avoid being sent to the front, he reveals the absurd posturing, endless bureaucracies, and utter incompetence of a dying empire.



The Castle in the Forest

Norman Mailer's final novel is also one of his most ambitious. At its core is the struggle between good and evil, a universal theme for man kind, this time seen through the eyes of a mysterious Nazi SS agent.



The Radetzky March

Through three generations of one family this novel traces the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as its former power and glory become a brittle shell covering the decadence and ineptitude of a crumbling aristocracy.



Introducing Austria: A Short History

A compact, yet comprehensive overview of the country's rich past and present. The first half deals with Austria before 1918, each chapter approaching Austria's thousand-year-old heritage from a different perspective. The second half of the book deals with Austria's turbulent history from 1918 to the present. Controversial issues are presented objectively and without oversimplification.



A Nervous Splendor

The cast of characters is quite amazing: Gustav Klimt, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud and more. At the center of it all is Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Liberal-minded and anxious to lead the empire into a modern era, Rudolf chafes at the powerless, largely ceremonial role he is limited to under his father's rule. The atmosphere in the city is reminiscent of Versailles and France in the late 18th century, just before the blood and horror of the French Revolution. While the people of Vienna parade, pose and preen the reader, aware of the disaster to come, recoils. It may cover a very narrow period of time, but it's a pivotal moment in the history of the world. The events of this fragile year, and the aftermath of decisions made, leaves you wondering 'if only...'



The Warwolf

This novel, originally written in German, details the lives of a small group of farmers drawn into the conflict of the 30 Years War. A frighteningly perceptive look at the effect of long-term warfare on people and society.



Menu Master for Germany

A phrasebook devoted to food, and organized like the typical menu. The brilliant part is that it gives you not just a translation, but a description of how the dish is usually prepared. Invaluable for real foodies.


Belgium

A Tall Man in a Low Land

One of the few travelogues around that deals strictly with Belgium, Briton Harry Pearson’s love of the people and culture is evident as he wanders from big cities to small villages throughout the country. With humor and wit he explains the history of the country, from the period of Spanish rule, through the colonialism of King Leopold II, to the current status as the political heart of the European Union.



The Guns of August

With an engagng narrative style, Tuchman takes an in-depth look at August 1914, the first month of what was to become World War I. The political uncertainty, the military blunders, and the loss of innocence that was to shape the next 50 years are brought to life.



All Quiet on the Western Front

One of the most remarkable war novels ever written, AQWF tosses you into the trenches of WWI. By the end you’ll be crouching in the mud, listening nervously for the whistle of an incoming shell, and just maybe have a greater understanding of why Europeans are so fervently anti-war.



A Very Long Engagement

A runway best seller in France, Japrisot weaves a stunningly complex mystery surrounding the death of five men in WWI. Sentenced for treason (shooting themselves in the hand in an attempt to be discharged from the army) and marched into No Man's Land between the German and French lines, the men are assumed to be dead. But subtle clues keep the fiancé of one of the dead men pulling at a thread until the mystery unravels. Beautifully evocative of the trench atmosphere, the pain of loss, and life after the war.



Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War

Gloomy, brooding novel about the experiences of trench warfare during The Great War (the war to end all wars). By the end you'll understand what it was like to be mired in mud and random body parts for days on end, waiting to be sent over the side into a hail of machine gun fire and almost certain, but always random death. WWI had a greater effect on the young generation than any war before or since, and this helps explain why.


Czech Republic

The Good Soldier Svejk

One of the great classics of Czech literature. Svejk is a lowly private serving in the WWI army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the hapless Svejk bumbles from one misadventure to the next, all in an effort to avoid being sent to the front, he reveals the absurd posturing, endless bureaucracies, and utter incompetence of a dying empire.



A Romantic Education

While Communism still dominated Eastern Europe, Hampl traveled to Czechoslovakia in search of her heritage. Long before the dam of revolution burst, A Romantic Education detailed life in the Communist East, and perceptively revealed the undercurrents of dissatisfaction. In this update to her best selling book the author looks at the Velvet Revolution and the decade of freedom and growth since.



Prague in Black and Gold: Scenes from the Life of a European City

Prague is at the core of everything both wonderful and terrible in Western history, but few people truly understand this city's unique culture. In Prague in Black and Gold, Peter Demetz strips away sentimentalities and distortions and shows how Czechs, Germans, Italians, and Jews have lived and worked together for over a thousand years. An engaging look at the history of the city, emphasizing the people who have shaped its development and evolution, from King Charles IV to Thomas Masaryk.



The Coasts of Bohemia

Bohemia, of course, does not have any coasts. Sayer takes this line from a Shakespeare play as the starting point for a sweeping and enlightening history of the Czech Republic (Bohemia and Moravia), the cultural elements which tie the region together, and how the sense of national identity and pride has been used throughout history to justify the means of whatever government was in power.



Utz

In this tight and compact novel about a porcelain collector, Chatwin reveals the frightening reality of living in the shadow of a totalitarian state and delivers a subtle but clear indictment of Communism.



I Served the King of England

A rags to riches to rags story about a hotel waiter who dreams of making it big. Through hard work, perseverance, and some down right shady dealings he makes a fortune and opens his own hotel, only to have it confiscated when the Communists take over. A witty story about the meaning of life.



How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed

An insightful look at what daily life in Eastern Europe was like under the communists. While the basic necessities of life were always assured, the tiniest luxuries (like, say, a banana, or make-up) were so rare as to take on almost mythical status.



The Castle in the Forest

Norman Mailer's final novel is also one of his most ambitious. At its core is the struggle between good and evil, a universal theme for man kind, this time seen through the eyes of a mysterious Nazi SS agent.



Cafe Europa: Life after Communism

In this collection of essays, award-winning Croatian journalist Drakulic touches on just about every theme dealing with life, culture and history in Eastern Europe, from Tito and the explosive history of the Balkans to her inability to find a bathroom in Bucharest with both soap and toilet paper. Much of the book focuses on age old insecurities and mistrust within Eastern Europe, and the historical and cultural reasons for them.



Disturbing the Peace

Havel, one of the Czech Republic’s greatest playwrights, was a key figure in the democracy movement that led to the Velvet Revolution. He eventually became the first president of the new republic and here, in a series of interviews, he gives his thoughts on Czech history, the social and political roles of art, and a statement of the values underlying recent events in Eastern Europe. A national bestseller.



The Trial

Kafka is at his best in this suspenseful story about Joseph K., a bank employee who is arrested and accused of a crime, without ever being told what the crime is. He is released from prison to return to work, but must keep coming back to the court, where it seems nothing is ever resolved. A treatise on the suffocating nature of modern society, and the hopelessness of the individual under the pressure of a bureaucratic state.



Magic Lantern

The Magic Lantern is one of those rare books that define a historic moment, written by a brilliant witness who was also a participant in epochal events. Whether covering Poland’s first free parliamentary elections—in which Solidarity found itself in the position of trying to limit the scope of its victory—or sitting in at the meetings of an unlikely coalition of bohemian intellectuals and Catholic clerics orchestrating the liberation of Czechoslovakia, Garton Ash writes with enormous sympathy and power. Now, nearly three decades on from the events covered in this book, it's more important than ever for younger readers.



All But My Life: A Memoir

From her comfortable home in Bielitz (present-day Bielsko) in Poland to her miraculous survival and her liberation by American troops in Volary, Czechoslovakia, in 1945, Gerda takes the reader on a terrifying journey. Gerda’s beautifully written story gives an invaluable message to everyone. It introduces them to last century’s terrible history of devastation and prejudice, yet offers them hope that the effects of hatred can be overcome.



The Haunted Land

When any oppressive regime falls, the newly freed people must deal with questions of guilt and punishment. Rosenberg confronts these issues in the minefield of Eastern Europe, where secret police did what they had been taught was right, and where virtually every citizen was an informant.


France

A Moveable Feast

In one of his best books, Hemingway beautifully captures the mood and atmosphere of Paris in the 1920's, when he and his first wife lived happily on $5 a day and still had money for drinks at the local cafe, skiing in the Alps, and fishing trips to Spain.



A Place of Greater Safety

The book centers on the three main characters of the early days of the revolution: Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins. Mantel uses character study and history to flesh out the lives and personalities of the people who shaped the course of the revolution, who initiated the Reign of Terror and who were ultimately overcome by their creation. A happy marriage of historical fiction with a page-turning plot.



At Home in France

Unlike Peter Mayle's stories of life in France, which are witty but terribly condescending towards the real people, Barry's book sacrifices slapstick for a more heartfelt look at what it's really like to live in a small village in France. Humor runs throughout, but it is the joy of shared humor rather than looking at the locals like apes in a zoo.



Caesar’s Vast Ghost

Part travelogue, part notebook, part autobiography, this text preserves memories from Lawrence Durrell's intimate experience of the Midi, intermingled with 19 poems. You will learn much more about Provence through this book, than with Peter Mayle's A Year In Provence.



Fragile Glory

Astonishing in its scope, this book gives you a little bit of everything about France and the French (history, famous authors, politics and politicians, culture, language) without ever being dry or dull.



Is Paris Burning?

The question of the title was famously asked by Hitler of his general in charge of Paris. Following the successful D-Day invasion and the Allied push towards Paris, Hitler gave orders to torch the city before retreating. The army defied the order, demonstrating that even Nazis had hearts. This wonderful novel is about real people risking their lives and the lives of their families to liberate Paris.



Mont St. Michel and Chartres

Not of a literal journey, but of a meditative journey across time and space into the medieval imagination. Using the architecture, sculpture, and stained glass of the two locales as a starting point, Adams breathes life into what others might see merely as monuments of a past civilization. With daring and inventive conceits, Adams looks at the ordinary people, places, and events in the context of the social conventions and systems of thought and belief of the thirteenth century turning the study of history into a kind of theater.



Paris to the Moon

Paris. The name alone conjures images of chestnut-lined boulevards, sidewalk cafés, breathtaking façades around every corner – in short, an exquisite romanticism that has captured the American imagination for as long as there have been Americans. In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York City for the urbane glamour of the City of Light. In the grand tradition of the American abroad, Gopnik walked the paths of the Tuileries, enjoyed philosophical discussions at his local bistro, wrote as violet twilight fell on the arrondissements. Of course, as readers of Gopnik's beloved and award-winning "Paris Journals" in The New Yorker know, there was also the matter of raising a child and carrying on with day-to-day, not-so-fabled life. Evenings with French intellectuals preceded middle-of-the-night baby feedings; afternoons were filled with trips to the Musée d'Orsay and pinball games; weekday leftovers were eaten while three-star chefs debated a "culinary crisis."



Paris: The Secret History

If Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon described daily life in contemporary Paris, this book describes daily life in Paris throughout its history: a history of the city from the point of view of the Parisians themselves. Paris captures everyone's imaginations: It's a backdrop for Proust's fictional pederast, Robert Doisneau's photographic kiss, and Edith Piaf's serenaded soldier-lovers; a home as much to romance and love poems as to prostitution and opium dens. The many pieces of the city coexist, each one as real as the next. What's more, the conflicted identity of the city is visible everywhere-between cobblestones, in bars, on the métro. In this lively and lucid volume, Andrew Hussey brings to life the urchins and artists who've left their marks on the city, filling in the gaps of a history that affected the disenfranchised as much as the nobility. Paris: The Secret History ranges across centuries, movements, and cultural and political beliefs, from Napoleon's overcrowded cemeteries to Balzac's nocturnal flight from his debts. For Hussey, Paris is a city whose long and conflicted history continues to thrive and change. The book's is a picaresque journey through royal palaces, brothels, and sidewalk cafés, uncovering the rich, exotic, and often lurid history of the world's most beloved city.



Wine & War: The French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure

Wine is a critical part of French culture, and has often been a major sub-plot of French-German conflicts dating back centuries. You won't learn much about French wine if you don't already know it, but you will get a great sense of the German desire for revenge in the aftermath of the punitive reparations imposed on them following WWI, the importance of wine and food in the French culture, and the dangers that some vintners were perpared to risk to save precious vintages.



Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War

Gloomy, brooding novel about the experiences of trench warfare during The Great War (the war to end all wars). By the end you'll understand what it was like to be mired in mud and random body parts for days on end, waiting to be sent over the side into a hail of machine gun fire and almost certain, but always random death. WWI had a greater effect on the young generation than any war before or since, and this helps explain why.



The Sun Also Rises

Published in 1926 to explosive acclaim, The Sun Also Rises stands as perhaps the most impressive first novel ever written by an American writer. Following “the Great War” a group of American and English expatriates take an excursion from Paris's Left Bank to Pamplona for the July fiesta and its climactic bullfight. The story is a journey from the center of a civilization spiritually bankrupted by the First World War to a vital, God-haunted world in which faith and honor have yet to lose their currency. The novel captured for “The Lost Generation” the spirit of its age, and marked Ernest Hemingway as the preeminent writer of his time.



Menu Master France

Do you know what andouillette is? Most menus will translate this simply as sausage, but Marling lets you know it's sausage made from strips of pig intestine (tripe, in other words). If that's not to your taste, better have a Menu Master handy, a phrasebook devoted to food, and organized like the typical menu. The brilliant part is that it gives you not just a translation, but a description of how the dish is usually prepared.



A Pig in Provence: Simple Pleasures and Traditional Food in the South of France

Thirty years ago, James Beard Award-winning author Georgeanne Brennan set out to realize the dream of a peaceful, rural existence en Provence. She and her husband, with their young daughter in tow, bought a small farmhouse with a little land, and a few goats and pigs and so began a life-affirming journey. Filled with delicious recipes and local color, this evocative and passionate memoir describes her life cooking and living in the Provençal tradition, an entrancing tale that will whet the appetite and the spirit perfect for foodies, Francophiles, or anyone who's dreamed of packing their bags and buying a ticket to the good life.



A Tale of Two Cities

It always surprising to go back and re-read books like this, years after I read them as required reading in some high school or college course. What was then boring, obligatory drudgery often improves with age (my own), and I suddenly understand why this is one of the classics of English lit. A seamless incorporation of the violence of the French Revolution with social commentary on life in Europe at the time.



A Year in Provence

This bestseller chronicles the trials and tribulations of restoring an old farmhouse in southern France. An awfully cutesy (some would say merely awful) look at the people and culture of France. If you like this one, the saga continues with Toujours Provence, and Mayle's first novel, Hotel Pastis.



Les Miserables

The original book that is a giant of French literature and has been so brutalized by Hollywood and Broadway. If you find the movie or the play confusing, it's because they leave out huge segments of the book. Hugo goes off on tangents in the midst of his fictional tale, giving long descriptions of historical events and real people, before cutting back to his story, only to interrupt himself with more long explanations. Fortunately it works, giving you a spell binding story and the entire history of 19th century France in the process (or at least, history the way Hugo saw it).



Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

Inspired by five paintings of Lydia Cassatt by Lydia's younger sister Mary, the author builds an intimate portrait of both sisters. Lydia, dying of Bright's Disease and saddened by the loss in the Civil War of the man she loved; Mary, a strong personality determined to step beyond the bounds of what was socially allowable for women at the time. Elegant and well written.



Marianne in Chains

A good, balanced look at life in occupied France, seen from the view of collaborator vs. resistance. Things were seldom black and white – most people were just trying to survive and enjoy life.



The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Ignore the Disney tripe and read the original to see why the story has captivated people since its publication in 1837. The beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, condemned as a witch and destined to burn at the stake, beloved by Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre-Dame Cathedral.



The Judgement of Paris

With a novelist's skill and the insight of an historian, King recalls a seminal period when Paris was the artistic center of the world, and a revolutionary movement had the power to electrify and divide a nation. The Judgment of Paris chronicles the dramatic decade between two famous exhibitions – the scandalous Salon des Refuses in 1863 and the first Impressionist showing in 1874 – set against the rise and dramatic fall of Napoleon III and the Second Empire after the Franco-Prussian War.



The Longest Day

The best book ever written on the D-Day invasion, Ryan deftly weaves personal stories of individual soldiers into the grander scope of the invasion and defence. He spent nearly three years interviewing survivors in the US, France and Germany during the early 1950's, while the memories were still fresh, and his painstaking research is the basis for many other historical accounts.



The Terror

Combining startling narrative power and bold insight, The Terror is written with verve and exceptional pace. David Andress, a leading historian of the French Revolution, presents a radically different account of the Terror. In a remarkably vivid and page-turning work of history, he transports the reader from the pitched battles on the streets of Paris to the royal family's escape through secret passageways in the Tuileries palace, and across the landscape of the tragic last years of the Revolution. The violence, he shows, was a result of dogmatic and fundamentalist thinking: dreadful decisions were made by groups of people who believed they were still fighting for freedom but whose survival was threatened by famine, external war, and counter-revolutionaries within the fledging new state. Urgent questions emerge from Andress's trenchant reassessment: When is it right to arbitrarily detain those suspected of subversion? When does an earnest patriotism become the rationale for slaughter?



Timeline

Crichton's usual, seamless blending of science fact and fantasy leaves you wondering just which is which. Scientists working for a private corporation have discovered a way to use particle physics to travel through time, and plan to use the new invention as a theme park. Only problem is that some of their development workers have disappeared into the Dordogne region of France, circa 16th century. A team of historians and archaeologists travel back to find them in the middle of the Hundred Years War. Many of the places depicted in the book actually exist in the Dordogne.



Pillars of the Earth

Don't start this one 30 minutes before bed time, or you'll be up turning pages all night. A multi-generational saga that explores the shift in architecture from Romanesque to Gothic, in the process bringing to life all of the facets of 12th and 13th century society, from the nobility and clergy maneuvering for land and power, to the poor, land-less peasants and trades people just trying to earn their daily bread. Set mostly in Britain, with a bit in France, but Gothic is such an important part of any visit to Germany that you should read it for that, as well.



All Quiet on the Western Front

One of the most remarkable war novels ever written, AQWF tosses you into the trenches of WWI. By the end you’ll be crouching in the mud, listening nervously for the whistle of an incoming shell, and just maybe have a greater understanding of why Europeans are so fervently anti-war.


Germany

Berlin Noir: 3 Novels in one Volume

Available in one paperback volume, these three mysteries make for easier, more enjoyable reading than the typical non-fiction history book, but still manage to give an insightful look into what life was like in Nazi Germany.



Inside the Third Reich

Originally published in German as Erinnerungen ("Recollections"), Inside the Third Reich is the autobiography of Albert Speer, focusing heavily on the years 1933 to 1945. As one of Hitler's closest associates Speer was privy to the intimate details of the government operation, and provides the best portrayal of life within Hitler's inner circle.



Saints and Villains

A fictionalized account of the real life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who stuck to his convictions regardless of the cost. Bonhoeffer joined the small Protestant movement against the Nazis during the early days of their rise. Arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against the Nazi Party, he was hanged in the final days of the war.



Sophie Scholl & the White Rose

A very readable and engaging account of the White Rose movement, which attempted to rouse the German nation into overthrowing Hitler and the Nazis.



The German Empire: A Short History

Focused primarily on the 19th and 20th centuries, the lively narrative digs into the social, political and economic forces that propelled Germany from a collection of proud and disparate independent regions to an industrial powerhouse that tried to conquer the world.



The Reader

How does the post-war generation of Germans deal with the Holocaust? How do people born after the events, innocent of any crimes, relate to a generation that perpetrated, or at least enabled, some of the worst crimes in history? Michael Berg is 15 when he begins a long, obsessive affair with Hanna, an enigmatic older woman. One day he discovers she is a defendant in a trial related to Germany's Nazi past, and it soon becomes clear that she is guilty of an unspeakable crime. Originally published in Switzerland, The Reader is a brief tale about sex, love, and shame in post-war Germany.



The Silent Angel

Böll's first novel, written in 1950, wasn't published until 1992 because no German publisher at the time would take on the piece. Still reeling in the aftermath of WWII, Germans were unprepared and unwilling to read such a novel, one that hit far too close to their daily reality. The novel traces the life of Hans Schnitzler, beginning with him as a proud young recruit in the early days of the war, but quickly finding him as a deserter, haunting the streets of a bombed out, post-war Cologne. Beaten and disillusioned, life is a daily struggle for food, water and shelter, but in the midst of despair Hans manages to find love and compassion.



The Warwolf

This novel, originally written in German, details the lives of a small group of farmers drawn into the conflict of the 30 Years War. A frighteningly perceptive look at the effect of long-term warfare on people and society.



The Castle in the Forest

Norman Mailer's final novel is also one of his most ambitious. At its core is the struggle between good and evil, a universal theme for man kind, this time seen through the eyes of a mysterious Nazi SS agent.



Magic Lantern

The Magic Lantern is one of those rare books that define a historic moment, written by a brilliant witness who was also a participant in epochal events. Whether covering Poland’s first free parliamentary elections—in which Solidarity found itself in the position of trying to limit the scope of its victory—or sitting in at the meetings of an unlikely coalition of bohemian intellectuals and Catholic clerics orchestrating the liberation of Czechoslovakia, Garton Ash writes with enormous sympathy and power. Now, nearly three decades on from the events covered in this book, it's more important than ever for younger readers.



Pillars of the Earth

Don't start this one 30 minutes before bed time, or you'll be up turning pages all night. A multi-generational saga that explores the shift in architecture from Romanesque to Gothic, in the process bringing to life all of the facets of 12th and 13th century society, from the nobility and clergy maneuvering for land and power, to the poor, land-less peasants and trades people just trying to earn their daily bread. Set mostly in Britain, with a bit in France, but Gothic is such an important part of any visit to Germany that you should read it for that, as well.



Germany: A New History

Consciously written for the person with no previous knowledge of German history, Schulze provides an engaging text that traces Germany's roots in the Nomadic tribes up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Throughout the book he links events with what was happening in society, music, theater and art in Germany, as well as placing them in a larger context of events in Europe and the world.



The White Rose

The true story of Sophie Scholl, a member of the German Resistence, presents a side of Germany and WWII that is not often told.



The Book Thief

Set during World War II in Germany, this groundbreaking novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing, when she encounters something she can’t resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.



When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany

Years ago, a cartoon appeared in a Russian newspaper picturing a fork in the road. One path was labeled freedom; the other path was labeled sausage. As we might guess, the path to freedom had few takers; the path to sausage was crowded with footprints. When given a choice people will choose bread and sausage above the free market and individual liberties. The promise of bread gets votes, even if the bread is at the expense of freedom. The people of Nazi Germany weren’t any more barbaric, uncivilized, or depraved than any other Western nation of the early Twentieth Century, yet the Nazi regime will forever serve as an example of brutality and extreme racism run amok. What led so many people to such extreme ends? We must take note of these lessons from history. The parallels with modern America are real, but the conclusion is not a foregone one.



All Quiet on the Western Front

One of the most remarkable war novels ever written, AQWF tosses you into the trenches of WWI. By the end you’ll be crouching in the mud, listening nervously for the whistle of an incoming shell, and just maybe have a greater understanding of why Europeans are so fervently anti-war.



Diary of a Young Girl

One of the best known books in the world, Anne’s diary gives us a fascinating blend of the daily rigors of life in hiding combined with a voyeuristic view of the thoughts of a teenager coming of age. No one who reads the book can fail to be touched by her spirit, and pained at her loss.



The Haunted Land

When any oppressive regime falls, the newly freed people must deal with questions of guilt and punishment. Rosenberg confronts these issues in the minefield of Eastern Europe, where secret police did what they had been taught was right, and where virtually every citizen was an informant.



A Tramp Abroad

In this tongue-in-cheek travelogue, Twain and his mysterious traveling companion make their way through Germany and across the Alps into Italy.



All But My Life: A Memoir

From her comfortable home in Bielitz (present-day Bielsko) in Poland to her miraculous survival and her liberation by American troops in Volary, Czechoslovakia, in 1945, Gerda takes the reader on a terrifying journey. Gerda’s beautifully written story gives an invaluable message to everyone. It introduces them to last century’s terrible history of devastation and prejudice, yet offers them hope that the effects of hatred can be overcome.



Menu Master for Germany

A phrasebook devoted to food, and organized like the typical menu. The brilliant part is that it gives you not just a translation, but a description of how the dish is usually prepared. Invaluable for real foodies.


Great Britain

Pillars of the Earth

Don't start this one 30 minutes before bed time, or you'll be up turning pages all night. A multi-generational saga that explores the shift in architecture from Romanesque to Gothic, in the process bringing to life all of the facets of 12th and 13th century society, from the nobility and clergy maneuvering for land and power, to the poor, land-less peasants and trades people just trying to earn their daily bread. Set mostly in Britain, with a bit in France, but Gothic is such an important part of any visit to Germany that you should read it for that, as well.



Historic London: An Explorer's Companion

As you walk the streets of the capital, whether you live in the city or are just visiting it, Inwood will show you London's history all around you: stretches of Roman wall; medieval churches and Tudor houses that survived the Great Fire; monastic buildings that survived the Reformation; street markets first established centuries ago that survive today; Georgian streets and squares that were spared the wreckers' ball; Wren churches; Victorian terraces and Inns of Court that survived the Blitz. He takes you to the London of Chaucer and Shakespeare, Samuels Pepys and Johnson; Dickens and Darwin, T.S Eliot and George Orwell. It is the perfect book to have in your pocket or your bag as you go about your business in this most fascinating of cities.



Longitude

With satellites and Global Positioning Systems modern sailors can easily pin point their own position in a vast and empty sea, but in the 17th century there was no greater challenge for a ship’s captain. Once the crew lost sight of land, there was no way of knowing whether they had traveled 100 miles or 1000 miles. The increasing volume of trade between Europe and the New World, and the risk to the ships’ precious cargoes, made it essential that some method for determining longitude be found. Sobel spins a tense and engaging tale about the stakes, the key characters, and the race for longitude.



Notes from a Small Island

In the mid-70's Bill Bryson escaped the confines of his Iowa homeland and emigrated to Britain. After 20 some years there he decides to go on a drive to really discover his adopted home. A non-stop hilarious look at the people, places and eccentricities of a land that many think must be so much like America, since they speak English, after all, but isn't a bit like it at all.



Oliver Twist

Look to Jane Austen for the light, sunny side of life in Victorian England, but if you want to know what life was like for untold masses of people slogging it out in the slums of the big cities, Dickens is the guy.



Robert the Bruce: King of Scots

The best history of Robert the Bruce, the enigmatic leader of the Scots in their war of independence from England’s King William I.



What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: The Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England

Austen, Dickens, Trollope, the Brontës all wrote masterpieces of English literature which make fun reading preparation for modern travelers. The problem is these authors were writing for an audience which lived at the same time as them. Passing references that put contemporary audiences all in a titter pass over modern audiences without a second glance, because we simply don't understand that the bathing season had very little to do with bathing. We don't know how many schillings there are in a pound, or what a stone is (it's not a rock). This book makes an excellent companion for anyone reading the classics, making sense of the basic structure of 19th century English society.



London Perceived

Now somewhat dated, but never the less an entertaining, pithy and knowledgeable distillation of the London experience – a panorama of its history, art, literature, and daily life. Here is the city that Londoners know, a paradox of grandeur and grime, the locus of bustling markets and tranquil parks, of the ancient and modern, of palaces and pubs, of docks and railroad depots.



A History of Scotland (Penguin History)

The best general history of Scotland that I have read. It could use a few more contextual explainations for those who have no base in British history, but otherwise well-written and engaging.



Bridget Jones’s Diary

A brilliant, satirical look at life in modern England. It's not all clotted cream and scones.



David Copperfield

Look to Jane Austen for the light, sunny side of life in Victorian England, but if you want to know what life was like for untold masses of people slogging it out in the slums of the big cities, Dickens is the guy.



Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey

Historical expertise marries page-turning fiction in Alison Weir’s enthralling debut novel, breathing new life into one of the most significant and tumultuous periods of the English monarchy. It is the story of Lady Jane Grey–“the Nine Days’ Queen” –a fifteen-year-old girl who unwittingly finds herself at the center of the religious and civil unrest that nearly toppled the fabled House of Tudor during the sixteenth century.



London: The Novel

A page-turning, multigenerational saga that captures the history and spirit of place. Starting with a specific location, basic historical facts, and authentic historical figures, Rutherfurd deftly weaves around it a fictional story of several families, following them and their descendants through centuries of triumph, sorrow and societal upheaval.



London: The Biography

The smells, sights and sounds of the city come to life as London takes on a human persona in this sweeping biography of the city, with special focus on how the city’s poverty helped shape its history.



Sarum

Another of Rutherfurd's sweeping historical novels, Sarum traces the entire turbulent course of English history, centering around the lives of five families near Salisbury.



The Brother Cadfael series

A Morbid Taste For Bones is the first of over 20 murder mysteries in the Brother Cadfael series. Set during the decade or so of civil war between Empress Maud and King Stephen, each book adds a bit of history about the war and the major players. It comes chronologically, so it's best if you read them in order.



The Forest

Beginning with the assassination of England's King William in 1099, Rutherfurd again details key moments in British history. This time the saga centers around the New Forest in Southern England, and the proud, and sometime strange characters who inhabit it.



The Princes in the Tower

In 1483 King Edward IV of England died young, leaving an unstable throne. After the two young sons of Edward IV disappeared into the Tower of London, never to be heard from again, Richard, Duke of Gloucester and brother of Edward, took the crown for himself, becoming Richard III. The eternal question is: Did Richard murder his two nephews while they languished frightened in prison? Weir does an excellent job of resurrecting the tumultuous period, presenting the personalities of the characters involved, and wading through the documentary evidence to reach her own conclusion.



Innocents Abroad

Twain turned his jaundiced eye on The Grand Tour, as he traveled through Europe in 1867. Hilarious, and every bit as relevant today as it was 150 years ago.


Hungary

I Served the King of England

A rags to riches to rags story about a hotel waiter who dreams of making it big. Through hard work, perseverance, and some down right shady dealings he makes a fortune and opens his own hotel, only to have it confiscated when the Communists take over. A witty story about the meaning of life.



Magic Lantern

The Magic Lantern is one of those rare books that define a historic moment, written by a brilliant witness who was also a participant in epochal events. Whether covering Poland’s first free parliamentary elections—in which Solidarity found itself in the position of trying to limit the scope of its victory—or sitting in at the meetings of an unlikely coalition of bohemian intellectuals and Catholic clerics orchestrating the liberation of Czechoslovakia, Garton Ash writes with enormous sympathy and power. Now, nearly three decades on from the events covered in this book, it's more important than ever for younger readers.



Utz

In this tight and compact novel about a porcelain collector, Chatwin reveals the frightening reality of living in the shadow of a totalitarian state and delivers a subtle but clear indictment of Communism.



Cafe Europa: Life after Communism

In this collection of essays, award-winning Croatian journalist Drakulic touches on just about every theme dealing with life, culture and history in Eastern Europe, from Tito and the explosive history of the Balkans to her inability to find a bathroom in Bucharest with both soap and toilet paper. Much of the book focuses on age old insecurities and mistrust within Eastern Europe, and the historical and cultural reasons for them.



How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed

An insightful look at what daily life in Eastern Europe was like under the communists. While the basic necessities of life were always assured, the tiniest luxuries (like, say, a banana, or make-up) were so rare as to take on almost mythical status.



The Haunted Land

When any oppressive regime falls, the newly freed people must deal with questions of guilt and punishment. Rosenberg confronts these issues in the minefield of Eastern Europe, where secret police did what they had been taught was right, and where virtually every citizen was an informant.


Ireland

Angela's Ashes

With his incredible first novel, McCourt became an overnight sensation. His Irish voice comes ringing through as he tells his story of growing up in Limirick, Ireland desperately poor. Filled with scenes that will have you alternately laughing and crying.



Dubliners

A collection of 15 short stories that depict life in and around Dublin at the start of the 1900s.



How the Irish Saved Civilization

Cahill is a born storyteller who writes engaging histories that tackle the basic foundations of why we are who we are. Here he brings to life the early days of the Dark Ages. As the Roman Empire disintegrates, and Europe plunges into madness and mayhem, a few brave souls retreat to the farthest reaches of the known world, taking with them written knowledge, which they will protect, painstakingly copy by hand, and redistribute when the world is ready.



The Lost Painting

Every so often a painting, thought for decades or even centuries to be lost, turns up in some unexpected place. This is the true story of just such a discovery. A real page turner of non-fiction that reads like a novel.



Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce's first novel is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story about young Stephen Dedalus. Increasingly alienated from the institutions around him, Stephen goes on a journey of self-discovery. This avant-garde work was listed as #3 on Modern Library's 100 best novels of the 20th century.



The Bodhran Makers

The Catholic Church in 1950’s Ireland comes into conflict with the Celtic (pagan) traditions of a rural village, forcing farmers to leave the country and settle in England.



To School Through the Fields: An Irish Country Childhood

The biggest selling book in Ireland's history beautifully brings to life the simple pleasures of growing up in the Irish countryside.



Trinity

A fictional novel that provides a powerful portrayal of the conflict between Catholic and Protestant, poor and wealthy in the uprising that made Ireland a free country.



Ulysses

Joyce's most famous novel deals with the events of one day in Dublin, 16th June 1904, now known as "Bloomsday". The principal characters are Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly. To this day it remains the modernist masterpiece, in which the author takes both Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to extremes.


Italy

Innocents Abroad

Twain turned his jaundiced eye on The Grand Tour, as he traveled through Europe in 1867. Hilarious, and every bit as relevant today as it was 150 years ago.



An Italian Education

In this follow-up to Italian Neighbors, British expatriate Parks writes about family life in Italy. Married to an Italian and living in Italy he watches in wonder as their two children grow. How is it that a child grows up to become “Italian” rather than “English?” Just as they learn language, so too they assimilate the culture that surrounds them. In the process of this observation, Parks provides a wonderful look inside the life of Italians and the subtle nuances of their society.



The Name of the Rose

A fascinating and engaging murder mystery revolving around monastic life in the 14th century. The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon—all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.”



Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Despite being written more than 200 years ago, this massive work on the history of the Roman Empire is every bit as fresh and engaging today. Gibbon has a delightful sense of irony in laying out the grand scope of history. There is also an abridged version, for the weak of heart.



Midnight in Sicily

Using the indictment of Giulio Andreotti, seven-time prime minister of Italy, as an entry point, Robb explores the connections of politics, corruption, food and art in the make-up of the Sicilian character. A brilliant work that goes a long way towards opening up a world that is a mystery to most foreigners.



The Leopard

A heartbreaking look into the mind and soul of Sicily, written in the mid 19th century.



When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City

An irreverent look inside the daily operation of Vatican City, one of the world’s richest and most powerful corporations. With boundless curiosity and seemingly unfettered access to the inner sanctum of the church, Hutchison reveals everything from how much a cardinal makes, to where the Swiss Guard go drinking when they’re not on duty.



Agony and the Ecstasy

This classic novel puts flesh on the life story of Michelangelo, combining well-researched facts with insight into human behavior to bring to life the people, politics and spirit of the time. An absolute must read for anyone planning a trip to Florence or Rome (note that the movie, starring Charleton Heston as Michelangelo, is really bad; ignore it and read the book).



Menu Master Italy

A handy little pocket-sized language book that focuses on menu items. The brilliant part is that it doesn’t just translate what the words mean, but gives a full-blown description of the dish, and how it is usually prepared.



Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

This city on the Adriatic has always tantalized Jan Morris with its moodiness and changeability. After visiting Trieste for more than half a century, she has come to see it as a touchstone for her interests and preoccupations: cities, seas, empires. It has even come to reflect her own life in its loves, disillusionments, and memories. Her meditation on the place is characteristically layered with history and sprinkled with stories of famous visitors from James Joyce to Sigmund Freud. A lyrical travelogue, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is also superb cultural history and the culmination of a singular writing career.



A Soldier of the Great War

Apart from wonderfully evocative descriptions of Rome, also a very gripping adventure story, much of which takes place in the Italian Alps.



Galileo's Daughter

A touching look at the personal life of Galileo, told through the letters sent to him by his daughter. Confined to a cloister for most of her life, Maria Celeste possessed a brilliant mind and acted as sounding board for many of Galileo’s ideas. Moving between Galileo's grand public life and Maria Celeste's sequestered world, Sobel illuminates the Florence of the Medicis and the papal court in Rome.



Inspector Montalbano series

This mystery series features a middle-aged Sicilian detective with as much disdain for the law as most of his suspects. Look for these titles: The Smell of the Night; Excursion to Tindari; Voice of the Violin; The Terra-Cotta Dog; The Snack Thief; The Shape of Water.



Christ Stopped at Eboli

In 1930’s fascist Italy, anti-fascist Levi is exiled to a poor village in the south of Italy. The locals say that Christ stopped at Eboli, a town situated further north, meaning that forgiveness, redemption and civilization never made it this far south. Levi looks back with fondness on his time spent among a people who are so far from the modern world.


Italy, Rome

The Lost Painting

Every so often a painting, thought for decades or even centuries to be lost, turns up in some unexpected place. This is the true story of just such a discovery. A real page turner of non-fiction that reads like a novel.



Roma: A Novel of Ancient Rome

Spanning a thousand years, and following the shifting fortunes of two families though the ages, this is the epic saga of Rome, the city and its people. Weaving history, legend, and new archaeological discoveries into a spellbinding narrative, critically acclaimed novelist Steven Saylor gives new life to the drama of the city's first thousand years — from the founding of the city by the ill-fated twins Romulus and Remus, through Rome's astonishing ascent to become the capitol of the most powerful empire in history. Roma recounts the tragedy of the hero-traitor Coriolanus, the capture of the city by the Gauls, the invasion of Hannibal, the bitter political struggles of the patricians and plebeians, and the ultimate death of Rome's republic with the triumph, and assassination, of Julius Caesar.



Marcus Didius Falco series

A fun series of mysteries, centered in ancient Rome. Well researched and written, they provide light entertainment while giving the reader a good idea of what life was like in 1st century Rome. Look for these titles: Silver Pigs; Shadows in Bronze; Venus in Copper; The Iron Hand of Mars; Poseidon's Gold; Last Act in Palmyra; Time to Depart; A Dying Light in Corduba; Three Hands in the Fountain; Two for the Lions; One Virgin Too Many; Ode to a Banker; A Body in the Bathhouse; The Jupiter Myth; Scandal Takes a Holiday; The Accusers



Masters of Rome series

An excellent complement to Gibbons’ Decline & Fall, this series essentially ends where Gibbons starts: with the Roman Empire. In the First Man in Rome McCullough begins setting the scene for the arrival of Julius Caesar, detailing the last decades of the Roman Republic and its fall. Better known for her popular novel, The Thornbirds, McCullough has done a masterful job of research on this novelized version of Roman history. Read them in this order: The First Man in Rome; The Grass Crown; Fortune’s Favorites; Caesar’s Women; Caesar; The October Horse.



A Bell for Adano

Awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1945, this novel centers around the US Army’s invasion and occupation of Sicily. Treating the locals with compassion and tolerance, the main character seeks to replace the town’s 700-year old bell, melted down by the Fascists to make ammunition.



Aurelio Zen series

The darkest and most violent of the mystery series that use Italy as a setting, this one features Aurelio Zen. Born in Venice and living in Rome, Zen works in locales spanning Italy from Piedmont to Sicily. It doesn’t provide quite the in-depth feel and spirit of place of other series, but does provide a broader view of the country. Look for these titles: Ratking; Vendetta; Cabal; Dead Lagoon; Cosi Fan Tutti; A Long Finish; Blood Rain; Medusa; Back to Bologna; And Then You Die; A Rich Full Death; Dirty Tricks.



As the Romans Do

As an expatriate living in Rome, Epstein is able to view the city both as tourist and as local, reveling in the contrast of age-old tradition with modern society, and exploring all of the back alleys and piazzas of the city.



Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal

In depth look at the people and events surrounding the construction of St. Peters Basilica in Rome.



Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling

Lucid, compelling storytelling at it’s best, this well researched book brings to life the daily grind of Michelangelo as he works to subdue the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.



Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes

An intriguing look at every pope, from St. Peter to John Paul II, all the better for its precision and brevity. Explores the highlights as well as the low-lifes who have made their mark on the throne of St. Peter.



The Passion of Artemesia

A fascinating look at the first successful female painter of the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Narrated by Artemisia herself, this novel brings to life the people, politics and justice of the time, makes clear the place of women in their society, and the difficulties faced by Artemisia as she seeks to make a name for herself and express her feelings through her art.



The Pope's Elephant

Hanno the elephant, a gift from Portugal to Pope Leo X in 1514, represents the excesses and thirst for temporal power that characterized the church during this period. Bedini brings to life all of the pomp and imperial grandeur of the Catholic Church in the 16th century.


Italy, Tuscany

The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance

A lively and intriguing tale of the competition between two artists, culminating in the construction of the Duomo in Florence, this is also the story of a city on the verge of greatness, and the dawn of the Renaissance, when everything artistic would change. The dome of Florence′s cathedral is one of the most enduring symbols of the Italian Renaissance, an equal in influence and fame to Leonardo and Michaelangelo′s works. It was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the temperamental architect who rediscovered the techniques of mathematical perspective. Yet Brunelleschi didn′t direct the construction of the dome alone. He was forced to share the commission with his arch-rival, the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose ′Paradise Doors′ are also masterworks. This is the story of these two men – a tale of artistic genius and individual triumph.



Florentine Histories

Known more for The Prince, his classic work on political philosophy, Machiavelli was aalso a keen observer and historian. Here is a unique presentation of the great families of Florentine history, written by a contemporary.



The City of Florence

Focusing on key figures and episodes in the centuries-long history of Florence, Lewis’ illuminates how the city became what it is today. Written very much like a biography (Lewis has written acclaimed biographies on Edith Wharton, Henry James and Dante), appropriate for a city that has a life of its own.



The Prince

Run out of office by the Medicis, Machiavelli sat down and sought revenge by writing the classic treatise on the use and abuse of political power. Ends justify the means is the basic premise, as Machiavelli contends that a leader “cannot observe all of those virtues for which men are reputed good, because it is often necessary to act against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against religion, in order to preserve the state."



The Sixteen Pleasures

In 1966 Florence suffered a devastating flood that left many buildings damaged and precious art works in ruins. This sensual novel traces the story of a young American woman who arrives to help with restoration work. While helping to restore and preserve a collection of antique books in an abbey library, she discovers an erotic book thought destroyed centuries earlier. It could be worth a fortune to the abbey, but they must proceed cautiously.



Bella Tuscany

The follow-up to Frances Mayes popular Under the Tuscan Sun features more of the good life in Italy.



Decameron

Writing in the 14th century, and standing in the shadow of Dante, Boccaccio had an enormous influence on Italian and foreign writers, including Chaucer and Shakespeare. The Decameron is about a group of people who flee Florence at the height of the plague, hoping to escape the Black Death by hiding out in the countryside. Each evening they gather to entertain themselves with stories, providing a vivid look at 14th century society and thought.



Vanilla Beans and Brodo: Real Life in the Hills of Tuscany

A must read for lovers of books on life in Tuscany and Italy. Isabella Dusi, an Australian with an Italian husband, relocates to Montalcino, a jewel of a hill town in southern Tuscany. She chronicles daily life there, providing the reader with interesting and amusing anecdotes about the town's various inhabitants.



April Blood

In April 1478 Lorenzo and his brother, Giuliano, were attacked while attending Mass in Florence. Giuliano died, but Lorenzo escaped to seek vengeance on those responsible. An intriguing look behind the curtain at the power and violence of Renaissance Italy.



Brunelleschi's Dome

A well-told story about the obsessive genius Filippo Brunelleschi, whose design for the dome of Florence’s cathedral still stands as one of the towering achievements of the Renaissance. Brunelleschi’s daring made him a star in his time, and allowed him to virtually dictate the direction of Renaissance architecture and design.



Marshal Guarnaccia series

A fun series of mysteries featuring a Florentine detective as the main character. Well drawn characters, twisting plots and a good look at the people, places and character of Florence. Look for these titles: Death of an Englishman; The Innocent; Death in Springtime; Some Bitter Taste; Death in Autumn; The Marshall and the Murderer; The Marshal and the Madwoman; Property of Blood; Death of a Dutchman; The Marshal's Own Case.



Romola

A novelized account of Savonarola, an autocratic monk who managed to take over the government of Florence and drive the Medici out for a short time. He initiated a rebellion against the humanistic movement that became the Renaissance, forcing artists into hiding and seizing “degenerate art” to be burned on bonfires.



The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall

A classic exploration of the family dynasty that almost single-handedly financed the Renaissance, and was synonymous with wealth, power and art in Europe for more almost three centuries.



Extra Virgin

The memoir of two sisters from England who, fed up with the cold and fog of England, head for Liguria near the Italian Riviera. In a run-down old farmhouse they come to grips with the age-old superstitions and suspicions of the locals.



A Tuscan Childhood

Beevor lived the kind of childhood that most of us can only dream of. The daughter of famous, wealthy parents (a writer and a journalist), her earliest memories are of life in the family home, located in a small Tuscan village. Eminent personalities, like DH Lawrence, pass through the thread of the story, but the real focus is on the earth-centered life of the peasants that work the land around the family home.



The Hills of Tuscany

Discover the villages and rural life of Tuscany with the Matés as they search for the prefect farmhouse to become their new home, and then get to know their surrounding neighbors, the villages and the ebb and flow of life in Tuscany. Less well known than Under the Tuscan Sun, but with better writing and more feel for the people and country.



Under the Tuscan Sun

Quick, guess the book based on the plot: move to a foreign country, buy a beat up old farm house, then write about the trials and tribulations of trying to renovate it while getting used to a society with a different work ethic than the USA. Breath in the earthy scent of your rural surroundings, get acquainted with friendly, quirky neighbors, and eat lots of fabulous food along the way to (re)discovering what life is all about. No, it’s not Peter Mayle’s Year in Provence. Despite the similar themes, it is an enjoyable read for anyone who dreams of the good life in Italy.



War in the Val d'Orcia

A classic of World War II, this is an elegantly simple chronicle of daily life at La Foce, a manor in a Tuscan no-man's land bracketed by foreign invasion and civil war. Marchesa Origo, an Anglo-American married to an Italian landowner, kept La Foce and its farms functioning while war threatened to overrun it and its people. She and her husband managed to protect their peasants, succor refugee children from Genoa and Turin, hide escaped Allied prisoners of war-and somehow stand up to the Germans. Under a hot June sun they were forced to flee on foot, along a mined road under shell fire, with 60 children in tow. Beyond praise and above mere documentary value, War in Val d'Orcia belongs to the great literature of humanity.


Italy, Venice

A History of Venice

A massive tome that is probably the best history of medieval Venice ever written. Makes clear just how unrivaled this city of art and culture was, at a time when most of Europe was still groveling around in mud huts.



The City of Falling Angels

An intimate and intriguing look at the exasperating character of Venice and Venetians. With his first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, on the New York Times Bestseller list, Berendt moved to Venice and spent the next ten years finding quirky characters and charming citizen who inhabit the world’s strangest city.



The Venetian Empire

With typical wry wit and sparkling prose, Morris mixes the history of the great Venetian trading Empire with descriptions of places in the present day city. One of the best introductions to the city.



Commissario Guido Brunetti series

This series of murder mysteries is set in modern Venice, with the middle-aged Guido Brunetti as the central character. Beautifully evocative of the spirit and feel of Venice, the subtle differences between Venetians and Italians, and the love/hate relationship many have for their city. Look for these titles: Death At La Fenice; Death in a Strange Country; Dressed for Death; Death and Judgement; Acqua Alta; The Death of Faith; A Noble Radiance; Friends in High Places; A Sea of Troubles; Willful Behavior; Uniform Justice; Doctored Evidence; Blood from a Stone



The Rosetti Letter

In this novel, Claire Donovan works as a chaperone for a surly teenager, while trying to complete her Ph.D. thesis about a mysterious courtesan who wrote a secret letter to the Venetian Council warning of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618. A blend of fact and fiction that breathes life into all the sensuality, political treachery, and violence of seventeenth-century Venice.


The Netherlands

Diary of a Young Girl

One of the best known books in the world, Anne’s diary gives us a fascinating blend of the daily rigors of life in hiding combined with a voyeuristic view of the thoughts of a teenager coming of age. No one who reads the book can fail to be touched by her spirit, and pained at her loss.



Girl with a Pearl Earring

Starting with one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings, Chevalier creates a fictional history for the unknown subject, weaving into the story the sights, sounds and smells of daily life in 17th century Netherlands.



Girl in Hyacinth Blue

In this wonderful idea for a novel Vreeland traces the history of a fictional Vermeer painting, from its discovery in the late 20th century, back through the decades and centuries to when it was painted. Through each chapter, as she uncoils the painting’s history all the way to Vermeer himself, the lifestyle and details of each era are brought to life.



The Hiding Place

A member of the Dutch underground during WWII, ten Boom’s family hid scores of Jews from the Nazi’s (Anne Frank fashion), but was eventually caught and spent the last years of the war in a concentration camp. A strong story of faith and compassion. The ten Boom house in Haarlem (near Amsterdam) is now a museum.



Tulipomania

Introduced into Europe in the early 1600’s, the tulip quickly became one of the most prized flowers in history, and the center of a trading market that makes the dot com era pale in comparison. By 1630 the buying and selling of tulip bulbs had reached such a frenzy that single bulbs were selling for more than the cost of a fine house. A fascinating bit of history, filled with enough colorful characters and scandalous intrigue to keep anyone turning pages late into the night.


Poland

The Castle in the Forest

Norman Mailer's final novel is also one of his most ambitious. At its core is the struggle between good and evil, a universal theme for man kind, this time seen through the eyes of a mysterious Nazi SS agent.



Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland’s Present

Beginning with Solidarity and the immediate concerns of the period since 1945, Davies works backward through time to highlight the themes and traditions of the past which are still alive in the present. Davies shows that Poland is a country whose fate is a matter of vital concern to European civilization as a whole.



Cafe Europa: Life after Communism

In this collection of essays, award-winning Croatian journalist Drakulic touches on just about every theme dealing with life, culture and history in Eastern Europe, from Tito and the explosive history of the Balkans to her inability to find a bathroom in Bucharest with both soap and toilet paper. Much of the book focuses on age old insecurities and mistrust within Eastern Europe, and the historical and cultural reasons for them.



Push Not the River

An epic novel in the grand romantic style, this is the rich story of Poland in the late 1700s – a time of heartache and turmoil, as the country’s once peaceful people are being torn apart by neighboring countries and divided loyalties. Based on the true 18th century diary of Anna Maria Berezowska, a Polish countess who lived through the rise and fall of the historic Third of May Constitution. Vivid, romantic, and thrillingly paced, it paints the emotional and unforgettable story of the metamorphosis of a nation.



I Served the King of England

A rags to riches to rags story about a hotel waiter who dreams of making it big. Through hard work, perseverance, and some down right shady dealings he makes a fortune and opens his own hotel, only to have it confiscated when the Communists take over. A witty story about the meaning of life.



All But My Life: A Memoir

From her comfortable home in Bielitz (present-day Bielsko) in Poland to her miraculous survival and her liberation by American troops in Volary, Czechoslovakia, in 1945, Gerda takes the reader on a terrifying journey. Gerda’s beautifully written story gives an invaluable message to everyone. It introduces them to last century’s terrible history of devastation and prejudice, yet offers them hope that the effects of hatred can be overcome.



The Haunted Land

When any oppressive regime falls, the newly freed people must deal with questions of guilt and punishment. Rosenberg confronts these issues in the minefield of Eastern Europe, where secret police did what they had been taught was right, and where virtually every citizen was an informant.



The Struggle & the Triumph: An Autobiography

A dramatic and self-dramatizing account of the rise of the Solidarity movement, his role in the labor strikes of 1988, his battle with the Polish Communist party and his election to the presidency. In down-to-earth prose, the former electrician writes about his father’s internment in a Nazi concentration camp, his own religious faith, and the joys of family life and of raising eight children.



Poland

Perhaps the most readable of the “histories” of Poland, this is one of Michener’s classic multi-generational sagas, filled with riveting events and unforgettable characters. Immensely entertaining as well as being an accurate overview of Polish history.



Magic Lantern

The Magic Lantern is one of those rare books that define a historic moment, written by a brilliant witness who was also a participant in epochal events. Whether covering Poland’s first free parliamentary elections—in which Solidarity found itself in the position of trying to limit the scope of its victory—or sitting in at the meetings of an unlikely coalition of bohemian intellectuals and Catholic clerics orchestrating the liberation of Czechoslovakia, Garton Ash writes with enormous sympathy and power. Now, nearly three decades on from the events covered in this book, it's more important than ever for younger readers.



Utz

In this tight and compact novel about a porcelain collector, Chatwin reveals the frightening reality of living in the shadow of a totalitarian state and delivers a subtle but clear indictment of Communism.



Full Circle: A Homecoming to Free Poland

An international journalist, Sikorski became involved in the Solidarity movement as a young man, was forced to flee to England for several years, and returned to participate as a minister in the new government. The most intriguing portions of his book deal with the early days of Solidarity and the risks involved for anyone who participated, as well as the dramatic political and cultural changes to the daily lives of average people in post-communist Poland.



How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed

An insightful look at what daily life in Eastern Europe was like under the communists. While the basic necessities of life were always assured, the tiniest luxuries (like, say, a banana, or make-up) were so rare as to take on almost mythical status.



Rising '44

A brilliant narrative of one of the most dramatic episodes in 20th century history. In August 1944, Polish Resistance poured forty thousand fighters into the streets of Warsaw to drive out the hated Germans. With the Red Army on the banks of the Vistula, within sight of the city, Stalin halted the Russian offensive, allowing the Wehrmacht to regroup and completely destroy the city. For sixty-three days Soviet troops and other Allied forces watched from the sidelines as tens of thousands of Poles were slaughtered and Warsaw was reduced to rubble.



The Polish Revolution: Solidarity

An eyewitness account of the Polish shipyard workers who defied their communist rulers in 1980. He describes the emergence of the improbable leader Lech Walesa, the ensuing tumult that culminated in martial law, and the fate of the Solidarity movement in subsequent years.



Diary of a Young Girl

One of the best known books in the world, Anne’s diary gives us a fascinating blend of the daily rigors of life in hiding combined with a voyeuristic view of the thoughts of a teenager coming of age. No one who reads the book can fail to be touched by her spirit, and pained at her loss.


Spain

For Whom the Bell Tolls

In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed this novel, one of the best war novels of all time. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author's previous works.



Menu Master Spain

A phrasebook devoted to food, and organized like the typical menu. The brilliant part is that it gives you not just a translation, but a description of how the dish is usually prepared.



The Heretic

A novel of daring adventure, tender first love, religious persecution, and political intrigue, The Heretic tells the story of a family of “Christianised” Jews who secretly retain their Jewish faith and heritage. Living in Seville on the eve of the Spanish Inquisition, the long-simmering animosity toward Seville's converted Jews explodes into violence. A serious, extensively researched work of historical fiction, dealing with the central issues of Christian anti-Judaism.



The Root & the Flower

Updated and expanded version of this classic study of the cultural history of Spain and its people. The scope of this richly textured book is remarkable and includes chapters on Roman Spain, the Jews in Spain, the Moors, life in medieval towns, the Golden Age of Spain, and other epochs in Spanish history. In addition, Crow extensively updates later chapters to reflect changing events in the last ten years in Spain, and he expands his chapter on "Franco's Legacy."



Barcelona

Hughes delves into the social and architectural fabric of the city, from Roman times to the modern industrial suburbs, understandably focusing on the two most distinctive sections of Barcelona, the medieval Gothic Quarter and the 19th century expansion known as Eixample.



Don Quixote

Widely regarded as the world's first modern novel, and one of the funniest and most tragic books ever written, Don Quixote chronicles the famous picaresque adventures of the noble knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, as they travel through 16th century Spain.



Death in the Afternoon

Still considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon reflects Hemingway's belief that bullfighting was more than mere sport. Here he describes and explains the technical aspects of this dangerous ritual, and "the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick." Seen through his eyes, bullfighting becomes an art, a richly choreographed ballet, with performers who range from awkward amateurs to masters of great grace and cunning.



The Sun Also Rises

Published in 1926 to explosive acclaim, The Sun Also Rises stands as perhaps the most impressive first novel ever written by an American writer. Following “the Great War” a group of American and English expatriates take an excursion from Paris's Left Bank to Pamplona for the July fiesta and its climactic bullfight. The story is a journey from the center of a civilization spiritually bankrupted by the First World War to a vital, God-haunted world in which faith and honor have yet to lose their currency. The novel captured for “The Lost Generation” the spirit of its age, and marked Ernest Hemingway as the preeminent writer of his time.



Iberia

Michener's trademark fresh, vivid prose reveals the real Spain as he experiences it. There’s the celebrated Spain of bullfights and warrior kings, painters and processions, cathedrals and olive orchards, but Michener also shares the intimate, often hidden Spain he has come to know. This is Spain where toiling peasants and their honest food, the salt of the shores and the oranges of the inland fields, the congeniality of living souls and the dark weight of history conspire to create a wild, contradictory, passionately beautiful land. Quite possibly Michener’s best book.



Spanish Lessons

In the shrewd, comical spirit of Peter Mayle and Bill Bryson, Derek Lambert discovers the charms and idiosyncrasies of Spain as he experiences the rewards and frustrations of beginning a new life there. As Lambert and his wife set about restoring their moldering casita on Spain’s Mediterranean Costa Blanca and learning to live the life of Spanish villagers, he introduces us to a nation far removed from the matadors, tapas bars, and sangria swillers. He uncovers the “real” Spain – a nation of passionate, eccentric, often contradictory, but always enchanting people. Unpredictable, often hilarious, and animated by colorful characters, Spanish Lessons presents an intimate and delightful portrait of off-the-tourist-track Spain.



The New Spaniards

Focusing mainly on the last half of the 20th century, Hooper presents an in depth look at the structure and influences of Spanish society, including the government, media, arts, and education.



The Story of Spain

A popular history of Spain and the Spanish Empire, from prehistoric times to the present day, providing description and analysis of political, social, economic and cultural events over centuries, which together shaped the history of this distinctive country. Williams is a masterful storyteller, who keeps what could be a dry text fluid and interesting through anecdotes and drama.



Homage to Catalonia

“I wonder what is the appropriate first action when you come from a country at war and set foot on peaceful soil. Mine was to rush to the tobacco-kiosk and buy as many cigars and cigarettes as I could stuff into my pockets,” wrote novelist, critic and political satirist George Orwell. In 1936 Orwell went to Spain to write about the Spanish Civil War, and ended up trading in his press pass for a rifle. After nearly becoming an engraving on a headstone, he returned to Britain to write this account of the war, still gripping in its immediacy.



The Dangerous Summer

Hemingway's firsthand chronicle of a brutal season of bullfighting. In this vivid account, Hemingway captures the exhausting pace and pressure of the season, the camaraderie and pride of the matadors, and the mortal drama as in fight after fight the rival matadors try to outdo each other with ever more daring performances. At the same time Hemingway offers an often complex and deeply personal self-portrait that reveals much about one of the twentieth century's preeminent writers.



Driving Over Lemons

The contagiously entertaining account of one couple's beginning a new life as they turn a rundown peasant farm in southern Spain into a home. When Chris Stewart first sees El Valero, he's willing to overlook its lack of electricity, running water, or access road. Assured that he's bought "a paradise for pennies," he phones his wife, Ana, still in England, whose enthusiasm is a little more tempered. Together they embark on an undertaking that includes rebuilding the house, feeding and housing a former owner reluctant to leave, the threat of drought (and flood), a cultural misunderstanding, and the creation of a whole new, fulfilling, enviable life.


Switzerland

La Place de la Concorde Suisse

Travelers to Switzerland are struck by an overwhelming sense of tranquility. Knowing that Switzerland is peaceful and neutral, most assume the country doesn't have an army. In fact, Switzerland is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world. With a population smaller than New Jersey's, Switzerland has a standing army of 650,000 ready to be mobilized in less than 48 hours. Every farmhouse contains firearms, and men and women trained to use them. After reading this book, you'll understand why the Israelis patterned their army after the Swiss.



Heidi

Heidi is a young orphan sent to live with her grumpy grandfather in the Swiss Alps. Much more than a children's story.



A Tramp Abroad

In this tongue-in-cheek travelogue, Twain and his mysterious traveling companion make their way through Germany and across the Alps into Italy.



Menu Master France

Do you know what andouillette is? Most menus will translate this simply as sausage, but Marling lets you know it's sausage made from strips of pig intestine (tripe, in other words). If that's not to your taste, better have a Menu Master handy, a phrasebook devoted to food, and organized like the typical menu. The brilliant part is that it gives you not just a translation, but a description of how the dish is usually prepared.



Altdorf

William Tell is the foundational myth of Switzerland. In this interesting novel Swift re-imagines the story, without the person of Tell. Using a decently accurate historical perspective, with lots of poetic license, the story brings to life medieval Switzerland, and explores how a ragtag bunch of farmers managed to drive out the most powerful Empire in Europe.



Morgarten

The second book in the Knights of the Forest series (the first is Altdorf). A daring moonlight raid with only a few hundred men leaves the outlaw Noll Melchthal in possession of an Austrian fortress. In the north, an outraged Leopold of Habsburg assembles the ultimate punitive force: a great army, thousands strong, boasting the best knights and soldiers the Holy Roman Empire has to offer. Noll's rebel army of boys and old men number less than a thousand. One of the greatest underdog stories of the medieval age.



Wilhelm von Tell

The classic Swiss story, everyone knows the basic kernel of the story, with William shooting an apple off his son's head. But do you know why he did it?



Innocents Abroad

Twain turned his jaundiced eye on The Grand Tour, as he traveled through Europe in 1867. Hilarious, and every bit as relevant today as it was 150 years ago.



Menu Master for Germany

A phrasebook devoted to food, and organized like the typical menu. The brilliant part is that it gives you not just a translation, but a description of how the dish is usually prepared. Invaluable for real foodies.


Movies 

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