Poland: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves and Cameron Hewitt

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

Books

  • Bury Me Standing (Isabel Fonseca, 1996). A literary delve into the world of Eastern European Roma (Gypsies).
  • Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends (Lonnie R. Johnson, 2010). The best historical overview of Eastern Europe.
  • The Habsburgs: The History of a Dynasty (Benjamin Curtis, 2013). Illuminating portrait of the Austrian imperial family that shaped so much of Eastern European history.
  • The Haunted Land (Tina Rosenberg, 1996). Dense but thought-provoking work that asks how those who actively supported communist regimes should be treated in the postcommunist age.
  • History of the Present and The Magic Lantern (Timothy Garton Ash, 2000/1990). Two of several good "eyewitness account" books by Ash that analyze the transition in Central and Eastern Europe from the late 1980s through the 1990s.
  • Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944–1956 (Anne Applebaum, 2012). Readable account of how the Soviets exerted their influence on the nations they had just liberated from the Nazis. Applebaum's Gulag: A History delves into one particularly odious mechanism they used to intimidate their subjects.
  • Poland (James A. Michener, 1983). Hefty look into the history of the Poles.
  • We Are the Romani People (Ian Hancock, 2002). A good textbook-style source of information on the often misunderstood Roma people.
  • The Year that Changed the World (Michael Meyer, 2009). Intimate chronicle of the exciting events of 1989.
  • Zlateh the Goat (Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1966). Newbery Honor book telling seven folktales of Jewish Eastern Europe.

Films

  • Ida (2014). Fascinating religious tale of a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, who — just before taking her vows — discovers a terrible family secret.
  • Karol: A Man Who Became Pope (2005). Polish-Italian biopic made in English about the humble beginnings of St. John Paul II.
  • Katyń (2007). Oscar-winning director Andrzej Wajda's recreation of the Soviet Army's massacre of around 22,000 Polish officers, enlisted men, and civilians during World War II. Some of Wajda's earlier works include Ashes and Diamonds (1958), The Promised Land (1979), and the two-part series Man of Marble (1977) and Man of Iron (1981).
  • The Pianist (2002). Roman Polanski's biopic about the struggle for survival of Władysław Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody, in an Oscar-winning role), a Jewish concert pianist in Holocaust-era Warsaw.
  • Schindler's List (1993). Steven Spielberg's Best Picture–winner about a compassionate German businessman in Kraków who saved his Jewish workers during the Holocaust.
  • White (1994). The second of Krzysztof Kieslowski's acclaimed, multilingual Three Colors trilogy, set partly in Warsaw and telling a tale of revenge by a Polish man abandoned by his Parisian wife. Kieslowski's other masterpieces include Red (1994), Blue (1993), and The Decalogue (1989) — 10 short films inspired by the Ten Commandments.

Two acclaimed German movies offer excellent insight into the surreal and paranoid days of the Soviet Bloc. The Oscar-winning Lives of Others (2006) chronicles the constant surveillance that the communist regime employed to keep potential dissidents in line. For a funny and nostalgic look at post-communist Europe's fitful transition to capitalism, Good Bye Lenin! (2003) can't be beat.


Cameron Hewitt is the co-author of the Rick Steves Eastern Europe guidebook.