16 essential books about Nazi Germany

16 essential books about Nazi Germany

In Reading Lists by Lanie Pemberton

16 essential books about Nazi Germany

The rise of Hitler’s Third Reich is one of the darkest chapters in history. Revisiting this era is painful, but it’s also a reminder of how vital preserving human rights truly is.

By reading books about Nazi Germany, we bear witness to the memory of those who endured unimaginable suffering during the Holocaust and World War II and honor the profound impact of their experiences. 

These books also serve as a stark reminder of the horrific consequences of unchecked hatred and discrimination. With far-right ideology and neo-Nazism on the rise (in 2020, the FBI increased the threat level of domestic hate groups, including neo-Nazis, to be on-par with foreign terrorist groups like ISIS), books about the Third Reich offer valuable lessons that can help us prevent — and ultimately stop — new applications of fascism.

This list includes nonfiction and fiction about Nazi Germany, from comprehensive analyses and revealing microhistories to personal memoirs and moving historical novels. If you’re looking for a solid starting point, I recommend The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer — a National Book Award winner that’s widely considered one of the definitive books about Hitler’s regime.

1. The Third Reich by Thomas Childers

Childers’ book sets the stage for other Nazi history books featured on this list. It provides critical context for how the Third Reich, an extremist party that committed many atrocities, managed to ever rise to power in the first place. (Context that helps explain how today’s fascist leaders, like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump, continue to gain more and more power.) 

You’ll learn about Hitler as a young, disgruntled man and his fledgling ideologies. Childers also explores the formation of the Nazi party and the propaganda strategies (implemented by Joseph Goebbels) that eventually launched them into a leadership stronghold. 

Library Journal calls The Third Reich “essential reading for World War II enthusiasts and those interested in the origins of the Nazi Party and the resulting Holocaust.”


2. The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert

Above all, Nazis are remembered for implementing and carrying out the Holocaust — the murder of over six million Jews across Europe and one of the largest genocides in history. As heartbreaking as it is comprehensive, historian Gilbert’s account traces the earliest days of anti-Semitism, how the Holocaust unfolded, the end of the war, and the resulting war crime trials.

This book includes graphic descriptions of violence and torture, some of which is gleaned from first-person experiences. It’s a painful and challenging read, but a worthwhile one that makes plain the atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany and the effects those acts had upon the world. 

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3. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

The history of Nazism and Hitler’s regime is complex (to say the least), but Shirer rises to the challenge of encapsulating it in this book. Originally published in 1960, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich won the National Book Award and remains one of the definitive nonfiction books about Nazi Germany. 

Though a heavy and hefty read, the author uses his experience as a war correspondent to build tension and create an immersive account. (If you like Shirer’s writing, you might also be interested in his memoir, Berlin Diary, which is a more personal account of the goings-on in Germany during World War II.)

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4. Nazi Germany and the Jews by Saul Friedlander

Friedlander, born into a Jewish family in Prague, spent much of the German occupation hiding at a Catholic boarding school. Later, he learned that his parents had been murdered at Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Based on his own personal experiences and exhaustive research, Friedlander composed a two-part series about Nazi Germany. This first installment, also called The Years of Persecution, won the National Jewish Book Award. It chronicles the rise of anti-Semitism in the first half of the 20th century, including discriminatory laws, propaganda campaigns, and the gradual isolation of Jews from mainstream society.

The second book, The Years of Extermination, delves into Hitler’s “Final Solution” — the genocide of Jews during the war. It won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. 


5. The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen

How did ordinary citizens experience and respond to the Nazi regime’s ascent to power? We can only know by examining Nazi Germany at a local level — something author Allen achieves here.

The Nazi Seizure of Power is a deep dive into the transformation of Northeim, Germany, during the rise of Nazism. Using archival sources and personal testimonies, Allen offers valuable insights into the factors that contributed to the Nazi Party’s success, shedding light on how it took hold of the community, eroded democratic norms, and impacted daily life. 


Most of us immediately associate the Third Reich with Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dachau. And most history books about Nazi Germany focus on the camps and the brutalities committed within. But few explore the ideation, rise, and infrastructure of these systems like Wachsmann’s book — a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.

Though a detailed and scholarly work, KL (an abbreviation of the German word for concentration camps, Konzentrationslager) reads like a narrative. It explores how these camps evolved from prisons to labor camps to death camps and details the experiences of both the victims and the perpetrators during these transitions. 

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7. The Death of Democracy by Benjamin Carter Hett

In what Kirkus calls a “provocative, urgent history with significant lessons for today,” Hett, a professor of history, traces how Hitler moved from fringe politician to controlling dictator, destroying democracy in Germany and toppling the Weimar Republic.

The Death of Democracy is a disturbing and essential read considering our current era, exploring how partisanship, nationalism, and the quest for power led a nation — and then the world — into a crisis rooted in crimes against humanity. 

Only by understanding the past can we hope to prevent repeating history and change the world for the better. Hett’s book is a vital contribution toward that goal. 

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The Nuremberg Trials — which took place from November 1945 to October 1946 — not only held Nazi leaders accountable for atrocities committed during World War II; they also set a precedent for culpability in international law and war crimes. 

This book isn’t a dry history of the trials: it’s a memoir by a lawyer who participated in them. Taylor’s analysis of what unfolded is riveting and personal.


9.Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning

Contrary to popular belief, much of the violence and murder perpetrated against Jewish people during the Holocaust came at the hands of regular people, not trained police officers or fanatics. But why did these ordinary men agree to take part in such grotesque violence? 

Browning, a historian and three-time National Jewish Book Award winner, uses Reserve Police Battalion 101 as an example of how groupthink — and slow, subtle dehumanization — can influence people to make appalling choices.


10. Hitler’s Furies by Wendy Lower

When we think of Nazis, the Third Reich, and the executors of Hitler’s Final Solution, we think of men. But what about the women? In this National Book Award finalist, Lower (The Ravine) exposes the overlooked roles of women in Nazi Germany — many of whom were not merely bystanders or supporters, but active and violent participants. 

Drawing on previously untapped sources, Hitler’s Furies uncovers startling discoveries about the motivations and experiences of these women, challenging conventional narratives of innocence and victimhood. 


11. Swingtime for Hitler by Scott Simon

One of the most terrifying things about propaganda is its sinister ability to infiltrate every aspect of daily life, including entertainment. 

In this book, Simon explores the fascinating and unsettling history of how a Nazi swing band used catchy songs to spread hateful propaganda. Full of vintage sound recordings — and the beloved NPR host’s moving insights — this Everand Original confronts the disturbing parallels between disinformation in Hitler’s Germany and fake news today.


12. Nazi Hunting by Jess McHugh

In the aftermath of the war, an unlikely duo dedicated their lives to holding Nazi officials accountable for their actions: married couple Beate and Serge Klarsfeld. Though it was clear their targets had committed unspeakable deeds, the Klarsfeld’s work was far from easy. Yet, they persisted.

Beate slapped German chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, a former Nazi, across the face to call attention to his crimes. Her husband, Serge, held a former Nazi official at gunpoint. These are some of the flashier moments of the couple’s dangerous, tireless, and wholeheartedly inspiring work bringing Nazis to justice. 

If ever you needed reassurance that ordinary people wield extraordinary power to do good, Serge and Beate’s story is it.


13. The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer

After losing her mother and surviving a brutal labor camp, Beer, a Viennese Jewish woman, abandoned the life she’d always known — including her Jewish heritage, law education, and personal autonomy — to hide in plain sight among the enemy. 

This memoir chronicles how she forged a new persona as Grete Denner, and went on to unwillingly marry a Nazi officer. For years, she lived in constant fear of exposure and death. Through it all, she remained resilient. After the war, Beer divorced her husband and, finally free, immigrated to England.

This tense and beautifully told tale of fear, deception, and survival comes from a bold woman who sacrificed her identity to save her own life.


14. The Nazi Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer

Co-authors Meltzer and Mensch (The Lincoln Conspiracy) take readers on a historical thrill ride in this account of the conspiracy that nearly changed the tides of WWII. 

Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill (dubbed “the Big Three”) narrowly escaped disaster during the Tehran Conference when Soviet intelligence agents stopped a Nazi assassination plot. This book not only covers the failed scheme, but also gives broader historical context.


15. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

No list of fiction books about Nazi Germany is complete without All the Light We Cannot See. It follows the twin narratives of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a German orphan recruited to the Nazi military, at the height of World War II. Werner’s storyline is particularly haunting, showing how the Third Reich used fear and brutality to build their armies.

Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a mainstay of WWII literature. It inspired a 2023 Netflix Original series starring Aria Mia Loberti, Mark Ruffalo, and Hugh Laurie.


16. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

This historical novel is a moving story of love and hope that’s based on the real-life experiences of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew and a Holocaust survivor who was forced to tattoo fellow prisoners at Auschwitz. 

Morris interviewed Lale in the last three years of his life to piece together his story, which he hadn’t shared with anyone in the years after the war. An astonishing story of love and hope amid the horrors of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been a perpetual bestseller since its 2018 release.


About the Author: Lanie Pemberton

Lanie is a San Diego-based freelance writer who loves reading crime thrillers and nonfiction about animals and the natural world. When not writing and reading (or writing about what to read), Lanie spends as much time as possible at the beach with her husband and pampered pittie, Peach.