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Belgium: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw

To learn more about Belgium past and present, check out some of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books: Nonfiction

  • The Guns of August (Barbara Tuchman, 2004). Pulitzer-Prize-winning chronicle of the outbreak of World War I and events along the Western Front, including Belgium.
  • In Flanders Fields: The 1917 Campaign (Leon Wolff, 1958). Classic account of the Flanders battle at Passchendaele, in which Allied forces captured a few thousand yards at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.
  • King Leopold's Ghost (Adam Hochschild, 1999). Clear-eyed examination of Belgium's exploitation of its Congo colony.
  • A Tall Man in a Low Land: Some Time Among the Belgians (Harry Pearson, 1999). Wry look at contemporary Belgium through the eyes of an outsider.
  • The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women's Movement (Laura Swan, 2016). Exploration of beguinages, communities of like-minded women who aided their towns' poor and vulnerable.

Books: Fiction

  • The Abyss (Marguerite Yourcenar, 1968). Story of an atheist in Renaissance Bruges, written by one of Belgium's greatest novelists.
  • The Adventures of Tintin series (Hergé, 1929–1976). Classic comics featuring the irrepressible boy reporter and his dog.
  • The House of Niccoló series (Dorothy Dunnett, 1999). Three-volume series tracing an audacious apprentice who rises to lead a mercantile empire in 15th-century Flanders.
  • The Lady and the Unicorn (Tracy Chevalier, 2003). Story behind the creation of the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, which were woven by a master craftsman in Brussels.
  • Pallieter (Felix Timmermans, 1916). Flemish classic about a young man whose life-threatening disease changes his life completely.
  • Resistance (Anita Shreve, 1995). Novel set in a village in Nazi-occupied Belgium, where the wife of a resistance fighter shelters a downed American bomber pilot.
  • The Square of Revenge (Pieter Aspe, 2013). Bruges' medieval architecture conceals a bizarre mystery for Inspector Van In to solve.

Films

  • The Adventures of Tintin (2011). Steven Spielberg adaptation following the beloved Belgian comic book hero on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship.
  • The Battle of the Bulge (1965). Historical drama starring Henry Fonda, recounting the surprise Nazi attack on the Western Front in 1944.
  • Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (1978). Shot in the Ardennes, a wacky romantic comedy starring Gérard Depardieu, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
  • If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969). Comedy featuring a group of travelers from the US racing through seven countries in 18 days on a bus tour.
  • In Bruges (2008). Dark and violent comedy filmed just where you'd think.
  • The Monuments Men (2014). Action-drama recounting a WWII platoon's mission to rescue Nazi-stolen art treasures — including Bruges' Michelangelo piece Madonna and Child and the Ghent Altarpiece.

Gene Openshaw is the co-author of the Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent guidebook.