The Book Thieves Summary and Reviews

The Book Thieves

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

by Anders Rydell (Author), Henning Koch (Translator)

The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell (Author), Henning Koch (Translator) X
The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell (Author), Henning Koch (Translator)
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Book Summary

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 greater literary crime. Through extensive new research that included records saved by the Monuments Men themselves - Anders Rydell tells the untold story of Nazi book theft, as he himself joins the effort to return the stolen books. When the Nazi soldiers ransacked Europe's libraries and bookshops, large and small, the books they stole were not burned. Instead, the Nazis began to compile a library of their own that they could use to wage an intellectual war on literature and history. In this secret war, the libraries of Jews, Communists, Liberal politicians, LGBT activists, Catholics, Freemasons, and many other opposition groups were appropriated for Nazi research, and used as an intellectual weapon against their owners. But when the war was over, most of the books were never returned. Instead many found their way into the public library system, where they remain to this day.

Now, Rydell finds himself entrusted with one of these stolen volumes, setting out to return it to its rightful owner. It was passed to him by the small team of heroic librarians who have begun the monumental task of combing through Berlin's public libraries to identify the looted books and reunite them with the families of their original owners. For those who lost relatives in the Holocaust, these books are often the only remaining possession of their relatives they have ever held. And as Rydell travels to return the volume he was given, he shows just how much a single book can mean to those who own it.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. An engrossing, haunting journey for bibliophiles and World War II historians." - Kirkus

"This vigorous, complete, and personal account of a body of historical research previously absent in literature is a must for readers who enjoyed Robert Edsel's The Monuments Men and those who seek out more obscure World War II topics." - Library Journal

"A Fascinating and untold story about the greatest book theft in history." - Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)

"The Book Thieves is a personal, well-written, and greatly informative title … that fills a big gap in the field of research." - Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden)

"Anders Rydell has written an as harrowing as it is riveting book about the Nazis' plunder of Europe's libraries, a large-scale attack on its cultural heritage. … One can only praise the expert work Rydell has done, resulting in a book that can be read as an educative thriller." - Borås Tidning (Sweden)

"Anders Rydell has written a fascinating cultural history account of the Germany that was transformed from the country of Goethe and Schiller, to that of Nürnberg, the Crystal Night, and the Holocaust." - Aftonbladet (Sweden)

"The author tells of the monstrosities committed in the best possible manner. He mixes his library visits and historical background with a consistently confident tone. It might appear cynical to talk about tone here, but Rydell's at times beautiful, at times matter-of-fact and restrained writing does wonders for the reader's engagement. Reality as it has been – and is today – does not have to be added to with emotionally loaded pointers." - Östgöta Correspondenten (Sweden)

"Just like in Rydell's August Prize nominated book The Looters from 2013, wherein the Nazis' great art thefts were uncovered, The Book Thieves opens the way for a multitude of fascinating perspectives and angles." - Upsala Nya Tidning (Sweden)

"Dante had Virgil as his guide in the Inferno. Rydell guides the reader through the different circles of the Hell on Earth that the Nazis created." - Norrbottens-Kuriren (Sweden)

"Rydell is an extremely effective popular history expert who solidly maps not only the book plundering, but also summarizes its long history." - Göteborgs-Posten (Sweden)

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Reader Reviews

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Elyn's Library

Reading this book in today's political climate is both informative and chilling.
"BOOK THIEVES" by Anders Rydell. "The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance." Translated by Henning Koch. Viking. 2017.

I'm only half way through and I am fascinated and outraged, in tears and terrified.

A very thorough and detailed account of the gradual, focused and relentless Nazi looting of all books that they encountered - whether they were in world-renowned collections, private libraries, local schools or the stack of books left on bedside tables of those who were "transported" and murdered.

As the Nazis slowly gained power, they recognized "accepted" and "unacceptable" writers. Unacceptable writers began to have trouble getting their work published. Then some book subjects were deemed "unacceptable" and they were removed from public shelves. The local Nazis suggested either sending the "unacceptable" books to their collection centers or using them to create an event to bring the "community" together.
The legendary book-burnings were carefully staged for maximum propaganda effect.

The looting gained speed and momentum.

In reality, the Nazi hierarchy created vast personal libraries including many, many rare and unique volumes for personal gain and pleasure. And, more importantly, the books were used to research and study to try to further justify and expand their murderous "cleansing" philosophy.

There is no way of knowing how many books were stolen or destroyed - estimates are well in excess of tens of millions - and only a few hundred have been returned to their original owners.

This book has meticulous and carefully researched details. Many personal interviews with various librarians, collectors and historians. Generous footnotes provide ample backup and detailed sourcing of numbers and data.

Reading this book in today's political climate is both informative and chilling.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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More Information

Anders Rydell is a journalist, editor, and author of nonfiction. As the Head of Culture at a major Swedish media group, Rydell directs the coverage of arts and culture in 14 newspapers. His two books on the Nazis, The Book Thieves and The Looters, have been translated into 16 languages. The Book Thieves is his first work published in English.

Henning Koch was born in Sweden but has spent most of his life in England, Spain, and Sardinia. Most recently he translated A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. He has also written a short story collection, Love Doesn't Work, and a novel, The Maggot People.

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