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SPOTLIGHT: Best Books on Berlin at War

Friday, September 25, 2015

My novel THE BEAST'S GARDEN is a retelling of the Grimm brothers' version of 'Beauty & the Beast' set in Nazi Germany. 

The story takes place between Kristallnacht in November 1938, and the fall of Berlin in April 1948, with most of the action centred on Berlin, the nerve centre of the Third Reich. 

I read a great many books to help me imagine what life must have been like in Berlin during those tumultuous years. Here is a list of those that helped me most:

BERLIN AT WAR - Roger Moorhouse

This book rarely left my desk for the months and months it took me to research and write THE BEAST'S GARDEN. Lucidly written and a mine of information, it is probably the best book on what it was like for ordinary Germans to live at the epicentre of Hitler's war. I can recommend this to anyone!

THE FALL OF BERLIN 1945 - Antony Beevor 

The story of the Fall of Berlin is one of terror and betrayal, destruction and bloodshed, rape and revenge, and is not one for the faint-hearted. Antony Beevor has examined every aspect of the events leading up to the cataclysmic destruction of Berlin in April 1945. The book is incredibly well-researched, and beautifully written, but is best for those who have already extensively studied the history of Germany in the Second World War, or those with a particular acute interest in warfare and battles - every manoeuvre, every push and retreat, is given space on this book's pages. Perfect for me, since I needed a day-by-day breakdown of the city's fall!   

INSIDE HITLER'S GERMANY: Life Under the Third Reich - Matthew Hughes and Chris Mann

A broad and accessible look at life in the Third Reich, with lots of pictures and breakout boxes. Useful and informative, with a good bibliography.

VICTORY IN EUROPE - Gerald Simons (with the editors of Time-Life Books)   

A simple and well-illustrated look at the final months of the Second World War in Europe, with lots of maps and photographs and newspaper headlines. It is one of a whole series of Time-Life illustrated books on World War II which I bought at a second-hand booksale in an old church in the Hunter Valley (with thanks to my brother Nick who lent me the money to buy them, then carried the heavy box out to the car.)

I also read a number of memoirs of life in Berlin during the war. The most useful to me were LETTERS FROM BERLIN by Margarete Dos and Kerstin Lieff, and BERLIN DIARIES 1940-1945, by Marie Vassiltchikov.  You can read more about them here.

You can also read my blogs on Best Books on Hitler and Best Books on Jews in Nazi Germany 


SPOTLIGHT: Best Books on Hitler

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My novel THE BEAST'S GARDEN is a retelling of the Grimm brothers' version of 'Beauty & the Beast', set in the underground German Resistance in Nazi Berlin. 

The story takes place between Kristallnacht in November 1938, and the fall of Berlin in April 1948. Hitler himself makes a cameo appearance in the novel, and is - of course - an omnipresent force of malevolence and darkness throughout the whole story. I thought I would share the books that best helped me to try to understand some of the forces that drove him. I have to say it was soul-harrowing spending so many hours staring into his soul ... 


HITLER - Ian Kershaw

A magisterial biography of the dictator, with a broad and all encompassing interrogation of his life, his acts, and its consequences. An absolute must-read for anyone who is interested in Adolf Hitler.

THE DARK CHARISMA OF ADOLF HITLER: Leading Millions into the Abyss  - Laurence Rees

This is a shorter and more accessible biography of Adolf Hitler, with a strong emphasis on his messianic appeal to millions of people. Utterly fascinating. 

IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin - Erik Larson 

A brilliantly written look at the life of the American ambassador to the Third Reich, William E. Dodd, and his family in the lead-up to the Second World War.  It shows very clearly how Hitler managed to dupe the world into thinking he only wanted peace, and shows how Dodd and his family slowly became aware of the true horror of Nazism. Riveting reading (you can read my longer review here.) 

HITLER'S SECRET LIFE : The Mysteries of the Eagle's Nest - Glenn B. Infield

This is an old book - published in 1979 - and is full of prurient speculations about Hitler's sex life. His supposed affair with his niece Geli and her subsequent suicide, his obsession with cowboys, his weird personal habits, his interest in the occult, his taste for very young women are all recounted in the breathless manner of the trashiest newspapers. For example, Hitler's mistress (who never appeared in public and was never interviewed) is quoted as saying, 'Sometimes he doesn't even take his boots off, and sometimes we don't get in the bed. On the floor he is very erotic.'  HITLER'S SECRET LIFE is, nonetheless, fascinating (and sometimes revolting) reading. 

1938: Hitler's Gamble - Giles MacDonogh

An intense, month-by-month examination of the crucial year of 1938, when the Fuhrer at last showed his hand. 

INSIDE NAZI GERMANY - a History Channel collection of documentaries on Hitler. Includes:

The Rise of the Third Reich

The Fall of the Third Reich

Hitler & the Occult

The Private Voice of Hitler

Hitler & Stalin: Roots of War

Hunting Hitler

Elite German Forces of WWII 


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