Laurence Rees’s WWII Reading List

Illustration by Michael Caplanis
Illustration by Michael Caplanis

Kaputt
Curzio Malaparte (1944)
“Part autobiography, part novel, part history, this extraordinary book is the story of an Italian officer’s World War II adventures. His encounters with Hans Frank, the Nazi governor of central Poland, are as compelling as they are bizarre.”

Survival in Auschwitz
Primo Levi (1958)
“The one essential book to read about the Holocaust. Levi, who suffered firsthand the horrors of Auschwitz, writes with forensic clarity about life as a prisoner of the Nazis.”

Commandant of Auschwitz
Rudolf Höss (1958)
“After the war, as he awaited his execution, Rudolf Höss—the former commandant of Auschwitz—wrote his memoirs. They are an important piece of history, not least because they reveal how a seemingly ordinary man could commit such a crime.”

The Origins of the Final Solution
Christopher R. Browning (2004)
“One of the greatest history books ever written. Browning has made it his life’s work to understand how the Holocaust was possible. This is the result of his labors.”

Beyond the War:
“I have always loved 19th-century French literature—particularly the short stories of Maupassant and the novels of Zola. But since making films and writing about Auschwitz I tend to read much less fiction. I don’t know why.”

Rees, a British historian and filmmaker, created the documentary World War Two: Behind Closed Doors, which aired on the BBC and PBS in 2009. His book of the same title was recently published by Pantheon. Rees’s other works include the Peabody Award–winning documentary Nazis: A Warning from History.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of World War II magazine. To read an interview with Laurence Rees, click here.

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