Skip to Content

11 Best German History Books

These are the best German history books to read if you want to learn more about the past of this fascinating country.

Germany’s history is fraught with triumph and disaster. From the unification of the country in 1871 to the rise of the Nazis and the destruction they wrought on Europe.

These books on German history are perfect if you want to learn more about the country. There’s a range of books on East Germany, the Nazis, Bismarck and much more.

So, if you’re looking for some great German history books, keep scrolling!

Best German History Books

Some of the German history books I've read
Some of the German history books I’ve read

While this isn’t a definitive list of books about German History, it’s a good place to start if you want to brush up on your knowledge of the country.

These are a mix of books I’ve read, one I intend to read and other ones I think offer a good overview of the history of Germany.

Stasiland

Sale
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
  • Funder, Anna (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages – 09/20/2011 (Publication Date) – Harper Perennial (Publisher)

Stasiland is one of the most interesting books on German history I’ve read even more so, after visiting the east of Germany and seeing it for myself.

The author, Anna Funder, wrote the book after living in Berlin for several years and endeavouring to learn more about what was like in East Germany (GDR).

The title refers to the Stasi, the secret police in the GDR, who monitored citizens incessantly. Reading the book, it’s incredible how pervasive their methods were and how far they would go to crush what they perceived as dissent.

After visiting numerous museums in Berlin and cities such as Leipzig, reading Stasiland was fascinating as it allowed me to make more sense of what I saw and understand better what it was like to live in the GDR until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Why you should read it: A collection of first-hand perspectives that give you a sense of what it was like to live in East Germany.

Alone in Berlin

Alone in Berlin
  • Hans Fallada (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 588 Pages – 06/15/2024 (Publication Date) – Penguin Books (Publisher)

Alone in Berlin is one of the most profound novels set in Germany I’ve read. It follows the story of Otto and Anna Quangel, as they become part of the German resistance against the Nazis.

The novel is based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel, who distributed postcards urging people to overthrow the Nazis after Elise’s brother was killed in France.

While strictly not a history book, Hans Fallada’s novel is based on true events lends it credence. It gives it perspective and weight and helps you to feel what it was like to live under Nazi rule, where disobedience wasn’t tolerated.

I found Alone in Berlin to be a powerful book about life under a totalitarian government and the lengths they will go to strike down anyone who goes against them.

It’s a powerful book that gives you an idea of what it was like to protest against the Nazis, and the consequences of doing so.

Why you should read it: The dramatisation of a true story in Nazi Germany reflecting the realities of living under a totalitarian regime.

The Train Was on Time

Train Was On Time
  • Heinrich Böll (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 108 Pages – 01/31/2019 (Publication Date) – Penguin (Publisher)

The Train Was on Time is another book on this list that’s not strictly a history book. But it does give you an insight into the realities of Germany during the Second World War.

This short novel follows the story of a German soldier, Andreas as he takes a train to Przemyśl in Poland.

The story gives you an idea of what life was like for German soldiers during the war, during an unforgiving war. Andreas befriends two other soldiers on his journey and the story progresses until they reach Poland.

I found The Train Was on Time to be a profound book that’s clear about the horrors of war and the effects it can have on the people who fight it and those caught in the middle of it.

Why you should read it: A novel that presents the realities of what life was like for soldiers during the Second World War.

The Shortest History of Germany

Sale
The Shortest History of Germany: From Roman Frontier to the Heart of Europe―A Retelling for Our Times (The Shortest History Series)
  • Book – shortest history of germany: from julius caesar to angela merkel–a retelling for our times
  • Language: english
  • Binding: paperback
  • Hawes, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

If you want to get a quick understanding of German history, The Shortest History of Germany is the book to read.

One thing that’s common when studying the history of Germany, and this applies to me, is that you often end up reading recent history such as the Nazis and East Germany rather than what happened before all that.

The beauty of The Shortest History of Germany is that, even though you don’t get a detailed look, you do get to understand much more of Germany’s past than the most well-known parts.

This is the perfect book to get if you want an overview of Germany’s past before you move on to more specific areas.

Why you should read it: A quick and easy-to-follow overview of German history that’s ideal for people new to the subject and those with more in-depth knowledge.

The Iron Kingdom

Sale
Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Clark, Christopher (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 800 Pages – 02/28/2009 (Publication Date) – Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (Publisher)

The Iron Kingdom is one of the books on this list that looks back past the 20th century and further into Germany’s past.

Written by the historian Christopher Clark, it deals with the rise of Prussia in the 1600s as a major European power.

It’s fascinating reading about the rise of Prussia, which was a medieval backwater at the start of the book and by the start of the 20th century, was the driving force behind the newly unified Germany.

It’s a riveting read, and The Iron Kingdom is also a long read at over 800 pages, but if you want to understand the past of Prussia and how it’s so important in Germany’s history, this is the book to read.

Why should read it: A fantastic account of the rise of Prussia from backwater to European power, which will help you understand the Germany of today.

Bismarck: A Life

Sale
Bismarck: A Life
  • Steinberg, Jonathan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 592 Pages – 04/01/2013 (Publication Date) – Oxford University Press (Publisher)

Aside from Hitler, one of the most important figures in German history is Bismarck. The Prussian general was the driving force behind the unification of Germany and laid the foundations of the country.

In Bismarck: A Life, you get to learn all about Otto von Bismarck and how he was able to unify the various parts of Germany against the odds.

I studied the unification of Germany at school and it’s hard to understand just how impressive Bismarck’s accomplishments were. Almost through sheer force of will he was able to achieve what he set out to.

Reading about Prussia and Germany’s rise as a dominant European power is essential to understanding the continent. Bismarck: A Life is the best biography of the man largely responsible for that.

Why you should read it: A superb biography of one of the most important figures in European history and architect of the German nation.

Weimar Germany

Sale
Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy – New and Expanded Edition
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Weitz, Eric D. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 488 Pages – 05/26/2013 (Publication Date) – Princeton University Press (Publisher)

One of the most fascinating parts of Germany’s past is the Weimar Republic which started from Germany’s defeat at the end of the First World War in 1918 until the Nazis gained power in 1933.

Weimar Germany by Eric D. Weltz offers an insight into this period that takes a rounded view. The common belief is that the Weimar Republic was a failure.

While it’s true there were challenges such as hyperinflation in 1923, there were still a lot of achievements, such as the rise of Berlin as an avant-garde capital and improved working conditions for many.

This is one of the most fascinating parts of Germany’s past and Weimar Germany is a brilliant guide to help you understand it better.

Why you should read it: A fantastic and wide-ranging look at the Weimar Republic, which will help you better understand interwar Germany.

Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace

Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Croxton, D. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 470 Pages – 07/24/2013 (Publication Date) – Palgrave Macmillan (Publisher)

The title of this book might not be obvious at first glance, but Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace is one of the most interesting German history books on this list.

The title refers to the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War and is arguably the most important treaty signed before the twentieth century.

For such an important treaty, there are few English language accounts of it which is why Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace is such an important book.

It will help you to understand the significance of this treaty and the implications it continues to have to this day.

Why you should read it: The definitive account of the negotiations and signing of the Westphalia Treaty that still impacts the world today.

The Third Reich at War

Sale
The Third Reich at War
  • Evans, Richard J. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 960 Pages – 02/23/2010 (Publication Date) – Penguin Books (Publisher)

The Third Reich at War is the third of historian Richard J. Evans’ trilogy of books about the Third Reich.

The book starts in 1939 and shows how Hitler plunged Germany into an all-out war that would end with the thousand-year Reich being defeated in 1945.

Reading this book, you get a sense of how pervasive war was in Nazi Germany. It was all-consuming and at the forefront of everything the regime did.

There aren’t many better books than The Third Reich at War to explain how Germany entered the war and the subsequent chaos that would ensue on the continent.

Why you should read it: A fantastic account of the Nazi regime during the Second World War that will shine a light on the realities of the war.

Hitler

Hitler
  • Kershaw, Ian (Author)
  • Italian (Publication Language)
  • 1728 Pages – 01/09/2019 (Publication Date) – Bompiani (Publisher)

You can’t have a list of the best German history books without one that focuses on the figure of Adolf Hitler.

Originally commissioned as two separate books looking at the early and later part of his life, Hitler, is the definitive account of the Nazi Fuhrer and his ascent to the Chancellery and subsequent demise at the end of the Second World War.

This is one of the best Ian Kershaw books, one of the foremost experts on Hitler and Nazi Germany, and someone whose work I read when I was at university. He does a fantastic job of analysing Hitler and how he came to be the figure he all know today

This is a big book, at over 1000 pages. But, it’s the essential guide to one of the worst dictators the world has ever seen.

You’ll have a better understanding of the depravities of Nazi Germany after reading Hitler and how a country can be turned upside down by one man.

Why you should read it: The best biography about the architect of Nazi Germany and his brutal regime, which helps you understand his rise and fall.

Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire 1871-1918

Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Hoyer, Katja (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 255 Pages – 12/07/2021 (Publication Date) – Pegasus Books (Publisher)

One of the striking things about Germany is that prior to 1871 it was just an idea. There was no German nation.

As I mentioned earlier, the realisation of this idea was largely down to Bismarck. Blood and Iron looks at what happened after that idea was realised from 1871 to the end of the First World War in 1918.

The five decades in this book are a fascinating period, not just for Germany but the whole of Europe. It saw the rise of Germany as a major power and its defeat in calamitous fashion in 1918.

Blood and Iron is a brilliant account of a period that’s often overlooked when it comes to Germany’s past but is crucial if you want to understand the country.

Why you should read it: Riveting look at the five decades where Germany went from a new country, to a major European power to defeat and the consequences it sowed for future generations.

Looking For More Books?

Best European History Books – If you want a more general overview of the history of Europe, these are the books you need to read!

Best Books on the Soviet Union – A list of books that will tell you all you need to know about the Soviet Union.