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Prague Books

Expats.cz's recommended reading on Prague and the Czech Republic

Prague Books

Expats.cz's recommended reading on Prague and the Czech Republic


Published 28.07.2009
Last updated 04.08.2009
COMMENTS (3)

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It´s time to broaden our minds and our libraries. Specifically with books on Prague and the Czech Republic. The history and culture of this amazing country is rich and varied; and an in-depth exploration of it is a rewarding pursuit. We perused the shelves of Amazon to compile a recommended reading list of sorts. While brief descriptions are included, please note these are not book reviews.

We didn´t include the most common guidebooks from publishers such as Frommer's, Fodor's, Rick Steves', Lonely Planet, Eyewitness but instead included titles that should offer a sense of place to your new homeland. We also didn´t include books by Czech writers, but read to the end for some links to Czech literature and poetry. As books about the city in English are sometimes difficult to come by, we hope this list will inspire you to take a deeper look at the Czech Republic.

Non-fiction:

The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown by Hugh Lecaine Agnew: A good overview of the nation, from prehistory and the first Slavs to the Czech Republic´s entry into the EU. Political, economic and cultural points are viewed.

The Czechoslovak Cookbook by Joza Brizova: Yum, Czech food. Avoid the pub and make goulash, bramborák or garlic soup at home. Recipes were adapted for American kitchens from a popular Czech cookbook.

Prague: A Cultural and Literary History by Richard D. E. Burton: Excellent reading for those who want to dig deep into the city´s cultural past and present. Includes overviews ranging from Jan Hus to Franz Kafka and Jewish Prague to the Good Solider Švejk.

Prague in Black and Gold: Scenes from the Life of a European City by Peter Demetz: This isn´t beach reading, but a thorough history lesson of Prague from mythical origins to post World War II. Meet the major characters: King Charles IV, Emperor Rudolf II, Jan Hus and Thomas Masaryk. Demetz does end his story at the end of WWII, so those looking for more recent history may be disappointed.

Prague in Danger: The Years of German Occupation, 1939-45 by Peter Demetz: Demetz moves into more recent history with this tome; sub-titled Memories and History, Terror and Resistance, Theater and Jazz, Film and Poetry, Politics and War. Anything else?

Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic: True Stories edited by David Farley & Jessie Scholl: A compilation of stories by both American and Czech writers who have lived in, and something to say about, Prague and the Czech Republic.

The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays by Ivan Klima: A collection of writings by own of the country´s best known authors on his time in the Terezin concentration camp; samizdat press and post-1968 resistance to the Communist government.

Prague 20th Century Architecture by Michael Kohout: Art Nouveau, Cubism and Functionalism are all covered in this book detailing Czech architecture from 1900-1997. More than 200 buildings are included with photos and descriptions.

Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovaly: A memoir by a Czechoslovakian exile that details her time spent in Nazi concentration camps; her return to Prague and happy marriage (before her husband was killed by the Communist regime) and her immigration to the West in 1968. See Reflections of Prague below, for a memoir by her son.

Prague Then and Now by J.M. Lau: This fascinating book offers 70 “then and now” photographs of the Golden City.  Commentary includes architectural notes, as well as political and social events that led to the changing cityscape.

Reflections of Prague: Journeys through the 20th century by Ivan Margolius: The story of a Czech Jewish family, this memoir details Margolius´ search for the truth regarding his father Rudolf, who was killed in the infamous Slansky Affair in the 1950´s. 

Prague Winter by Nikolaus Martin: The memoir of a young man, half German/half Czech, caught up in the events of World War II and Nazi occupation in the Czech Republic.

The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History by Derek Sayer: A sociologist´s approach to Czech history, nationalism and culture, Sayer doesn´t so much cover the “typical” historical highlights but instead discusses the formation of Czech culture through the years.

Living in Freedom: The New Prague by Mark Sommer:  This book, published in 1993, tells one man´s version of how the city has changed since the fall of Communism. Based on Sommer´s visits to Prague in 1983, 1990 and 1991, the book combines history, personal reflections and interviews with locals.

Prague Territories: National Conflict and Cultural Innovation in Franz Kafka's Fin de Sičcle by Scott Spector: An overview of Jewish writers at the beginning of the 20th century; Spector´s book offers social and ideological relationships between politics and culture.

Czech Republic in Pictures by Stacy Taus-Bolstad: A children´s book. Experience the country´s geography, history, people and culture through photos.

Jewish Stories Of Prague: Jewish Prague In History And Legend by V.V. Tomek: An in-depth review of Jewish history in Prague, including Rabbi Loew and his Golem.

Kafka's Prague: A Travel Reader by Klaus Wagenbach and Shaun Whiteside: This is a combination guide to the Prague Kafka knew - and a guide to the Kafka Prague knew. As he famously said: "Prague doesn't let go. This little mother has claws."

Prague: A Traveler's Literary Companion edited by Paul Wilson: This is an anthology of 23 Prague stories. Well-known writers such as Ivan Klima and Franz Kafka rate inclusion, but the bonus here are the stories being first seen in their English translation. Publisher´s Weekly said about this book: “To see human comedy in the midst of great suffering allowed the spirit of Prague to prevail, and that is the genius of the authors presented here.”


Hastening Toward Prague: Power and Society in the Medieval Czech Lands by Lisa Wolverton: This is a heavy duty textbook-like tome on Czech society and politics in the High Middle Ages.

Fiction:

Prague: A Novel by Arthur Phillips: This is actually a novel about Budapest, not Prague. However as it tells the story of five expatriates who settle in Budapest at the beginning of the ‘90s, many people may be able to relate. Prague, in Phillips´ story is the unattainable Mecca, where the characters would rather be living - if they hadn´t chosen Budapest.

The Memoirs Of A Prague Executioner by Josef Svátek: A historical novel, this book is loosely based on the writings of one Jan Mydlár, an actual executioner in the 16th century. Medieval law enforcement is of course discussed, but history fans may enjoy the inclusion of society and culture norms of the time.

Some of these titles may be available in local English-language bookstores, such as Anagram, Big Ben, Globe or Shakespeare & Sons. You can also check the English sections of local bookstores such as Palác Knih Luxor.

Want more information? Read an overview of Czech literature and authors here. Prefer poetry? Learn about Czech verse here. Have you read any of these, or other books about Prague and the Czech Republic? Share your thoughts and recommendations below!

Have we missed any books that should be mentioned here? Let us know in the comments section below.

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bellarina(Guest) Published: 02:57:24 02.08.2009
I really like Pavel Kohout. His novels include "White Book" (an absurdist picture of life under Communism), "I Am Snowing" (a post-Communism story about the opening of the Communist-era secret police informer files, the effect of that opening on the informers and their victims, and thus about the corrosive effect of the Communist regime), "The Widow Killer" (a detective story set in WWII Nazi-occupied Prague) was mesmerizing, and "The Hangwoman" (a black-humor story about executioners). Also you can now get the English translation (from French) of The Ghost of Munich which encapsulates the betrayal of Czechoslavakia in l938. That is really well written with much historical relevance.
Elizabeth(Guest) Published: 09:30:02 30.07.2009
Patricia Hampl's elegant memoir -A Romantic Education- chronicles the writers travels through her ancestral Prague. Gary Shteyngart's -The Russian Debutante's Handbook- and its fictional Prava come to mind; two collections of short stories by Czech women writers -Povidky- and -All Skin- deserve a mention, too.
John Crane(Guest) Published: 09:51:50 29.07.2009
Karel Kaplan's "The Short March" is an excellent description and analysis of what took place here in 1948. Prague: Under the Shadow of the Swastika by MacDonald & Kaplan has great photos of Prague during the German occupation. Igor Lukes's text : Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler is one of the best books out there to get a more Czech perspective on the Munich Pact and the role of Benes in the negociations. Benjamin Frommer's book "National Cleansing" is outstanding. He outlines the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans - how and why the decisions were made and the impact on Czechoslovakia. Chad Bryant's book "Prague in Black: Nazi Rule and Czech Nationalism" is a very well written, but definitely not, as you say, "beach reading." I feel it is a more objective read than Demetz's book on the same topic, which tends to be a bit more anecdotal - often blurring the line between opinion and history. For those interested in issues of gender, a very good (and highly academic) book is Klassen's "Warring Maidens, Captive Wives, and Hussite Queens." Finally, the book that I have just started reading, Bradley Abrams "The Struggle for the Soul of the Nation: Czech Culture and the Rise of Communism." So far, a very informative read. And if I may through in one more interesting text, that is not 100% Czech (actually, not at all), it would be "The Forsaken" by Tim Tzouliadis. I think it is an important read for all of us Americans in Prague to see how ordinary, working class Americans emigrated to the USSR in search of a better life, and how so many of them would suffer as Stalin began his reign of terror. A part of history that is unknown to so many of us. Thank you for posting this list, I think that the creation of such a reading list for expats is a great contribution.