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November 10, 2009 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Have you read an informative, engaging book on German history? If so, what is it?

After visiting Berlin last year, I became quite interested in German history. In particular I was fascinated by the city of Berlin itself, WWII and the events leading up to and following it, and the Berlin Wall years.

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall has me thinking about it again, so I've decided it's time to stop my casual internet reading and move on to a proper book. I read very little nonfiction, so I'm hoping for something that's not too dry. But I was an English major, so it doesn't have to be, you know, a kids' book or anything. Also, military strategy puts me to sleep.

I know this is a very broad subject to ask for A book about, but as of now I'm just trying to get my feet wet. Anything helps. Thanks!
posted by bluishorange to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Divided Nation: A History of Germany, 1918-1990 by Mary Fulbrook.

It's a wonderful read, and looks like exactly what you want.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:56 PM on November 10, 2009

The general histories of Germany (that go back pre-20th century) that are out there unfortunately a bit poor, in my experience. The Cambridge Concise volume is probably your best bet, though. Especially if you're interested in the modern side, as it skims the medieval and early modern periods.

Avoid A Mighty Fortress by Steve Ozment, and especially avoid Michael Sturmer's The German Empire.
posted by hiteleven at 8:18 PM on November 10, 2009

Best answer: When I was living in Berlin, my guest mother had a copy of Fausts's Metropolis: A history of Berlin by Alexandra Richie. I haven't read it since then, but I remember it being an excellent book, well written, and in depth about the city.
posted by SNWidget at 8:28 PM on November 10, 2009

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History series had a 4 part podcast about the eastern front called Ghosts of The Ostfront. It's pretty awesome. I'd recomend it.
posted by sully75 at 8:33 PM on November 10, 2009

Gordon A. Craig's Germany, 1866-1945, is the place to start. Solid history from the greatest German Historian writing in the English Language. V.R. Berghahn's Modern Germanyis a servicable account of the 1900-1970's period.

Avoid William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which is a dramatic read, but draws conclusions regarding the Nazi regieme which are not shared by professional historians. For Hitler, Joachim C. Fest's majestic Hitler has been available in English translations for 20 years now. Shorter volumes on Hitler by Bullock and Kershaw are also quite good. For the Holocaust, see Raul Hilber's 3-volume masterpiece The Destruction of the European Jews has never been surpassed since its release nearly 50 years ago now. Works by William Friedlander and Christopher Browning are good supplements. Avoid Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioner's, which despite its flashy title and jacket, is a polemic lacking in measured historical analysis, written by a political scientist.

I have personally read these books and can vouch for them. For more specific areas of historical inquiry, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Shoulda previewed.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:13 PM on November 10, 2009

Best answer: As Ironmouth says, avoid Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, whatever you do. Terrible book, bad history, all sorts of wrong.

For books more particularly about East Germany, here are a few titles that might be up your alley (esp. Judt's Postwar, though it's about Europe in general).
posted by scody at 9:26 PM on November 10, 2009

This may be a bit different than what you had in mind, but a few years ago I was blown away by a memoir called "A Woman in Berlin." It was written (and published anonymously) by a German women, who recounted her days in Russian-occupied Berlin just after Berlin fell. It was a brutal time. I stumbled upon the book quite by accident but it really made me appreciate the humanity of the so-called enemy during wartime.

Anyway, it's great. I recommend it.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:50 PM on November 10, 2009

I've just re-read this, also by Gordon Craig. It's terrific. It's not really a straight-ahead history, but rather more a discursive look at various aspects of German history and culture: music, literature, women, money, etc..
posted by lex mercatoria at 11:26 PM on November 10, 2009

Best answer: "Stasiland" by Anna Funder is fantastic - an interesting exploration of life in East Germany under the Stasi, those who worked for them, and those who resisted them.
posted by Pippi Longstocking at 11:49 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh man, you've got so many great books to choose from.

For general German history, a few ideas:
Any of Fritz Stern's books (I especially liked Iron and Gold, on Bismark, Bleichroder (his banker), and the building of the German Empire)
Peter Gay's Freud, Jews, and Other Germans

Ian Kershaw's multi-volume bio of Hitler
Anthony Beevor's boks on the Battles of Stalingrad and Berlin cover both Russian and German military experiences but offer great historical context and insight into broader cultural issues W.G. Sebald's essay collection, On the Natural History of Destruction
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:01 AM on November 11, 2009

The novels of Alfred Döblin Berlin Alexanderplatz (famously made into a TV epic by Fassbinder) and the trilogy on the failed revolution November 1918 are actually a pretty good 'in' to the history of the period, I think.
posted by Abiezer at 9:05 AM on November 11, 2009

Best answer: Postwar is really good
posted by exois at 10:15 AM on November 11, 2009

This is about as good as I've ever read: The Arms of Krupp by William Manchester. I highly recommend it.
posted by WyoWhy at 10:27 AM on November 11, 2009

seconding Iron and Gold, a really interesting look at the rise of Bismark, banking, and the ambiguous position of the Jews in German society at the time.
posted by lex mercatoria at 11:56 AM on November 11, 2009

A Science for the Soul: Occultism and the Genesis of the German Modern is really wonderful. Expensive, but worth it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:21 PM on November 11, 2009

Response by poster: Yay, look at all this! I've marked as best answer some of the books I'm going to start with, but I'll definitely come back to the thread for more ideas later. Thanks so much to everyone!
posted by bluishorange at 9:09 AM on November 12, 2009

I favorited this last month because I wanted to come back later and pick a book from the responses. I'm half German (most who know me would say "at least") but don't know much about German history prior to Hitler. I've picked the Fritz Stern book to start with, which is actually called Gold and Iron.
posted by intermod at 8:16 PM on December 6, 2009

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