The Book Thieves

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

Publisher: Viking
"A most valuable book." —Christian Science Monitor

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.


"A chilling reminder of Hitler’s twisted power." —BBC

"this history can still startle and surprise us; that, as researchers ask new questions and follow new leads, revelations are still possible . . . Rydell's passion for the subject is undeniable. Serving as a courier, he manages to convey the emotional power of returning even a single book to a grateful descendant who has lost so much else.” —The Chicago Tribune

"Reader-friendly and a riveting account, the book deserves a large readership." —Jack Fischel, The Jewish Book Council

"An erudite exploration of the systematic plundering of libraries and book collections by Nazi invaders. Looting books by mainly Jewish owners, collections, and libraries was an effective way of stealing Jewish memory and history, as this thorough work of research by Swedish journalist and editor Rydell attests . . . An Engrossing, haunting journey for biliophiles and World War II historians alike." —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

"Fast-paced and well-written." —Haaretz

“A Fascinating and untold story about the greatest book theft in history.” —Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)
“Anders Rydell has written a compelling book about [the Nazis’] attempt to author a cultural history without any influence from the Reich’s enemies. Rydell’s book is a gripping read … 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)
“An engaging work on the Nazis’ book theft /…/ Rydell’s work is dedicated and constitutes a solid mapping of the quiet work being done in Berlin, Vilnius, Prague, Paris and other cities. 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)
 “One can only state that [Anders Rydell] has done it again /…/ The presentation has a depictive momentum and objective lucidity. The Book Thieves is a historical commentary of the highest quality. /…/ The symbolism is as arresting as it is appropriate. This makes The Book Thieves into something much more than just a gripping tale of Europe’s darkest years.” —񠬈Sydsvenskan (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)