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All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days Summary and Reviews

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days

The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

by Rebecca Donner

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days by Rebecca Donner X
All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days by Rebecca Donner
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Book Summary

The "highly evocative, deeply moving" true account of the extraordinary life and brutal death of Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during WWII—"a stunning literary achievement" (Kai Bird, author of The Outlier and co-author of Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus)

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment—a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited working-class Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage, and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. Her coconspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired, she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. At a Nazi military court, a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On February 16, 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.

Historians identify Mildred Harnack as the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, yet her remarkable story has remained almost unknown until now.

Harnack's great-great-niece Rebecca Donner draws on her extensive archival research in Germany, Russia, England, and the U.S. as well as newly uncovered documents in her family archive to produce this astonishing work of narrative nonfiction. Fusing elements of biography, real-life political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Donner brilliantly interweaves letters, diary entries, notes smuggled out of a Berlin prison, survivors' testimony, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, epic story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased by history.

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Book Awards

  • award image National Book Critics Circle Award, 2021

Reviews

Media Reviews

"A stunning biography... Donner's research is impeccable, and her fluid prose and vivid character sketches keep the pages turning…This standout history isn't to be missed."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Mostly novelistic, the narrative contains some manufactured tension, melodrama, and passages of purple prose and paragraphs broken apart or clipped short to create a dramatic effect that feels forced. Despite the breathless delivery, this is a welcome contribution to the history of the anti-Nazi underground."―Kirkus Reviews

"Donner's meticulous research and novelist's sensibility make for a riveting biography of a remarkable and brave woman… Readers of Erik Larson's biography In the Garden of Beasts will appreciate Donner's different perspective on the same historical events and figures. Recommended to all who enjoy engaging narrative nonfiction."―Laurie Unger Skinner, Library Journal

"Highly evocative, deeply moving, a stunning literary achievement. Rebecca Donner forges a new kind of biography—almost novelistic in style and tone, this scholarly work resurrects the courageous life Mildred Harnack, an unsung American hero who led part of the German resistance to the Nazi regime. A relentless sleuth in the archives, Donner has written a page-turner story of espionage, love, and betrayal."―Kai Bird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography

"Rebecca Donner has written a beautifully rich portrait of a very brave woman. While never less than scrupulously researched, this biography explodes the genre of 'biography': experimental but achieved, Donner's story reads with the speed of a thriller, the depth of a novel, and the urgency of an essay, like some deeply compelling blend of Alan Furst and W.G. Sebald."―James Wood

"How can it happen that a constitution, a free press, and a democracy be demolished—all within six months? This powerfully written story of Mildred Harnack, resistance fighter against Hitler, tells step by step the way the German republic fell to the Nazis. Read All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, and be warned."―Maxine Hong Kingston, winner of the National Book Award, author of The Woman Warrior

"At once boldly imagined and lovingly researched, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days sets the remarkable story of resistance fighter Mildred Harnack against the backdrop of daily life in Germany as Hitler tightened his grip on the nation. Epic in sweep, written with a novelist's attention to detail and a historian's perspective on social and political forces, this book opens up new possibilities for biography."―Ruth Franklin, winner of the NBCC Award for Biography, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

"Combining meticulous scholarship and sparkling narrative brio, Rebecca Donner's All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days brings to life for the first time the central role played by underground activist Mildred Harnack in Germany's homegrown opposition to Nazi rule. That Harnack was an American woman from Wisconsin only adds to the complexity of this stirring and tragic story, which culminates in the Harnack group's ill-fated clandestine campaign to undermine Hitler's regime. More broadly, Donner's portrait of the cruelly oppressive system against which Harnack and her circle fought can serve to remind us of what can happen when, amidst economic insecurity and anguish over dislocating socio-cultural change, a highly civilized nation embraces demagoguery over democracy."―David Clay Large, author of Berlin

This information about All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Rebecca Donner

Rebecca Donner's essays, reportage and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Bookforum, Guernica, and The Believer. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is her third book; she is also the author of a novel, Sunset Terrace, and Burnout, a graphic novel about ecoterrorism. She was a 2018-2019 fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, Ucross Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. Born in Vancouver, Donner is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University, and has taught writing at Wesleyan University, Columbia University, and Barnard College.

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