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The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,089 ratings  ·  244 reviews
For readers of The Monuments Men and The Hare with Amber Eyes, the story of the Nazis' systematic pillaging of Europe's libraries, and the small team of heroic librarians now working to return the stolen books to their rightful owners.

While the Nazi party was being condemned by much of the world for burning books, they were already hard at work perpetrating an even great
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published February 7th 2017 by Viking (first published September 1st 2015)
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Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a moving account of the books plundered in tens of millions by the Nazi’s – from the Jewish community, but also from Communists, émigré libraries, Freemasons and others. As the Nazi party gained power, not only people, but libraries and book collections were scattered. I am, and have always been, a lover of books. To take books and burn them, as the Nazi’s famously did; to blacklist books and authors, is to try to control the history, and thoughts, of a population. The Nazi party instinc ...more
This is a valuable addition to the collection of writing about Nazi looting and plundering throughout their sphere of influence as it addresses the taking of books and other written materials exclusively. It also ties this in to the creation of the Nazi's primary "myth": the Jew as the cause, not only of the war, but of a vast worldwide conspiracy in historical terms. In careful detail, the author, discusses the early philosophy behind National Socialism and the various men who had been proposin ...more
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

Recently, I attended the 2017 MLA conference. There were several panels, more like hundreds and while some of them were a little dull, many of the ones I attended were awesome. One of the best was a panel about the destruction or taking of the libraries those a nation conquers. The focus was largely on the Israel/Palestine question in terms of those libraries (and the panel had to be hastily resembled apparently), but the points raised are good ones. Want to contro
Jill Hutchinson
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
I am really in the minority as far as this book is concerned. After reading The Monuments Men which was an excellent adventure of the discovery and return of many of the art treasures plundered by the Nazis, I thought that this book would a great follow-up. Unfortunately, it did no live up to my expectations.

The burning of books was one of the Nazi's favorite pastimes......anything by Jewish authors or books that contained subjects that took issue with Nazi thinking went into the bonfires. Libra
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fascinating story of ordinary people performing extraordinary acts to protect literature from being lost. Flipping between modern day and WWII, the author takes us through a Europe ravaged by Nazi oppression and Jewish segregation. However, this book has messages of hope throughout.
The story follows people who tried to protect Jewish literature (or books written by Jews) from being confiscated and destroyed by Nazis. There's some pretty clever stories about how books were smuggled to safety a
Anna W.
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: net-galley
I have lived in the midwestern United States for all of my life. Much of my physical travel has not included areas outside the borders of it, either. However, books have always provided me a glimpse of other nations and other cultures--ways of life that have expanded my esoteric understanding of the world.

This limitation of my own reality is one of the reasons I get pretty bent out of shape when censorship is brought up. My personal belief system centers around free thought, even when—especiall
Jim Swike
I expected more information, didn't learn much from this book. Maybe you will feel differently. Enjoy! ...more
Todd Stockslager
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: Out of the fire

The Nazi regime in Germany is most commonly associated with burning books, not collecting them, and indeed they did organize ritual book burning in the 30s as the Nazis expressed their ideology in the form of symbolic destruction of books by and about Jews, communists, and other enemies of the state. But books, since Gutenberg and movable type, are printed and sold in quantities which make the complete destruction of a printed idea by fire or other means a difficult
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
THE BOOK THIEVES is much more than the story of the Nazi pillaging of Europe's libraries. Anders Rydell explores the evolution of the Nazi ideology and the men behind the destruction of the literary culture of the Third Reich's "internal enemies". Rydell explores how and why the German mandate shifted from destruction to the confiscation of valuable books for the purpose of ideological research and evaluation.

"What is more frightening, a totalitarian regimes destruction of knowledge or i
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance by Anders Rydell (translated by Henning Koch) is a non-fiction book which tells of the efforts of the Nazis to ransack European libraries, bookshops and private collections.

The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance by Anders Rydell (translated by Henning Koch) is a fascinating look at another aspect of the Nazi killing machine, this t
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was hoping for something more insightful. Once the idea of looted books was introduced, I waited to read more about the effect of the loss of all those books and more about exactly what the Nazis hoped to achieve by collecting them. Instead, it's very detailed account of the looted books that ended up in this library and that repository, with a chapter for each location. I didn't finish the book. It seemed like a kind of reference book, although with passages tacked on in an attempt to make it ...more
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are some interesting facts here and the subject is interesting. Unfortunately the book as a whole is quite boring.
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
As I read this I kept thinking of Sean Connery's line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

All this book burning entailed looting a continent's worth of libraries and archives, specifically to root out so-called subversive literature (i.e. anything Jewish). But, as Rydell points out, the Nazis weren't just about burning books:

The image of burning books has been altogether too tempting, too effective, and too symbolic not to be used and applied in the writing of history. But the burning of boo
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Book Thieves is a well-documented and researched book.

Much has been said about artwork/paintings that were stolen, but not much has been voiced regarding books that were plundered. This book, in extremely excellent detail brings life to those books.

Not only the books, but the owners of certain books are illuminated. Their lives given substance through the pages of their personal libraries.

Finding information regarding individual books and provenance, and regarding book collections is a ti
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4 1/2 stars if that were an option.
When one thinks of the looting that happened during WWII, probably the first thing that comes to mind is art, as that's what has received the most attention. This book brings to light the staggering amount of books that were stolen. Most were never returned, or even found. The author does a good job of including facts, numbers, etc, without slowing the story down. Also, I appreciated that there was a good background history of how
Jon Vincek
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Goodreads Giveaway Winner: This is by far the best giveaway book that I have yet to receive. Rydell does a great job of explaining the systematic theft of a culture and the attempts to redeem it. Each page is more interesting than the last.

Through his travels, Rydell shows the people that are trying to do the right thing. The work for justice is often overlooked. The researchers and librarians are attempting a thankless task that most people are not interested in doing. Through their hard work
Mark Fallon
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The Nazis knew how important books were to the Jews. Reading makes you into a human being. When someone takes it away from you they also steal your thoughts. They wanted to destroy the Jews by robbing them of what was most important to them." - Michal Busek

In addition to the known atrocities committed by the Nazis, Anders Rydell's book reveals the systematic theft, and often destruction, of libraries across Europe and the former Soviet Union. Disturbing and important book to read.
Mary Ann
Apr 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very well done research book which taught me some things I knew and some I did not, but; didn't really understand. A very heart breaking read in so many ways. ...more
Feb 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, ww2
A very informative book about a little known and even less cared for aspect of the Nazi era and its aftermath. What a heartbreaking chronicle of the almost complete destruction of so many libraries and collections. It gets a bit overwhelming. The only thing that kept it from ending on a completely disheartening note was the bittersweet story of restitution that the author was able to facilitate.
The author gives the history behind some of the most famous libraries in pre-WW2 Europe such as the
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A thoughtful, well-researched book. The looting of European art during WWII has gotten a lot of attention but the Nazis were just as determined to take whatever they wanted from European libraries (both institutional and personal ones), sending much back to Germany to enrich their own libraries and archives but also destroying.
Book starts in Germany itself with the Nazi takeover, then covers Amsterdam, Paris, Italy, before moving to places that I wasn't familiar with but that suffered almost l
Erik Graff
May 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: WWII fans
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: history
Translated from the Swedish, this book presents the outlines of the book and manuscript thievery conducted by agencies of the German government during WWII and describes such efforts as have occurred to return them to their rightful owners, be they individuals or institutions. The parallels with art thefts of the period are clear enough. Art objects are generally more valuable as commodities, but books, and the ways the Nazis meant to handle them, represented an ideological value. By iiquidating ...more
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating.The Nazi's basically stole Libraries across Europe to prove to the rest of the world that there really was a "Jewish Conspiracy" and that they could "prove it" through personal libries, correspondence, archives, etc.....I have been reading about WW2 for almost 30 years now and this is one of the most fascinating books books I have ever read. ...more
Andrew Richardson
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This non-fiction book tells the story of the Nazis looting public and private libraries during WWII. “ …The Nazis realized that if there was something that gave more power than merely destroying the word, it was owning and controlling it. There was a power in books.”

I had heard of book burnings, but I was not aware of the extent of confiscating the books of Jews, Freemasons, Leftists, etc. all across Europe. The Nazis wanted to exterminate the Jews but preserve them as a historical and symbolic
Sameer khan
Jun 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
There has always the curiosity regarding the art treasures stolen by the Nazis during their reign of around 12-13 years. The prime reason being the high monetary value attached with them. Multiple cases have become popular like the story of Maria Altmann and her decade-long fight to reclaim Gustav Klimt's iconic painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was stolen from her relatives by the Nazis in Vienna just prior to World War II. However, not much importance or time has eve ...more
Extraordinary and thought-provoking, considering books as both historical sources and as material objects, and discussing the many ways in which books are used in the conveyance of ideas. Then, the flip side: the many ways books and the control - not necessarily destruction, but the fragmentation and recontextualizing - of books and the written word were essential to Nazi Germany's ideological war against the Other, and the depth to which Nazi ideology conflated all Other with Jewishness.

This in
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The image of Nazis burning books is a striking and pervasive one, because of course it is based in the truth of the pyres that were made in public squares across Germany as the Third Reich rose to power. But in The Book Thieves, Anders Rydell tackles and attempts to recontextualize that image by uncovering the extent to which the Nazis were collectors of stolen literature—not just of valuable manuscripts as you might already be familiar with from Monuments Men—but of books of all types, from all ...more
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished listening to this book right before my husband and I went on vacation, but ran out of time to review it!

With that said, I highly recommend this book if you are even a little interested in what, exactly, the Nazis looted when it comes to artifacts. I genuinely had no idea about the massive scope of thievery that occurred leading up to WWII, and during the war--particularly, that so, so much of it was literary-based.

I really enjoyed that Rydell focused heavily on not just the precious
Debra Lowman
Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a book for bibliophiles. Of course I have read about the art both stolen and recovered after WWII, but truly I hadn't thought about the literature lost, stolen, or recovered. That's embarrassing, I'm a librarian. Moreover, if someone donates or we otherwise come by a book second-hand and we add it to the collection, I cross through the name scrawled inside the cover if I see one (hand over face in shame). So for me, I gave the book an extra star just for making me think about it, for exp ...more
It as very informative, but the chapters were very repetitive: the Nazis went here and took this amazing collection of books and documents, and then they went here and did a very similar thing. The most interesting thing was learning about how the Nazis were using these materials to build their propaganda.

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14 likes · 5 comments
“Dispersal was a conscious strategy of the plunderers. Only by destroying these collections could they build up new ones. Many of these libraries were the results of decades, sometimes centuries, of careful collecting. There had been generations of learned collectors and readers. The books also said something about the people who owned and treasured them: what they read and what they thought and what they dreamed. Sometimes they left traces in the form of underlined passages, notations, notes in the margins, or short comments. The beautiful and personally designed ex librises that many readers had made for their books demonstrate the care and pride they took in their libraries. Each collection in its own right took form in a unique culture, a depiction of its creator's world, which was lost when the library was broken up. The books are fragments of a library, of a world that once existed.” 2 likes
“What is more frightening, a totalitarian regime’s destruction of knowledge or its hankering for it?” 1 likes
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