Switzerland: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

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

Books: Nonfiction

  • Eiger Dreams (Jon Krakauer, 1990). In this collection of essays, Krakauer explores the trials and triumphs of mountaineering.
  • La Place de la Concorde Suisse (John McPhee, 1983). Following a mountain unit of the Swiss Army, this book explores how mandatory military service (for men) keeps Switzerland from breaking apart.
  • Scrambles Amongst the Alps (Edward Whymper, 1871). This mountaineering classic recounts adventure and tragedy in the life of the first climber ever to summit the Matterhorn.
  • Swiss History in a Nutshell (Gregoire Nappey, 2010). Nappey delivers information that's concise and enjoyable, yet not dumbed-down.
  • Swiss Watching (Diccon Bewes, 2010). This campy book covers all the basics in an easy-to-digest look at 21st-century Switzerland.
  • Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II (Stephen P. Halbrook, 1998). Halbrook posits that Switzerland's robust preparation for armed resistance against the Nazis was a key to its success in maintaining neutrality.
  • A Tramp Abroad (Mark Twain, 1880). Twain humorously recounts his 1878 "walking tour" through the Alps.
  • The White Spider (Heinrich Harrer, 1959). This book chronicles the first successful ascent of the Eiger's north face in 1938.
  • Why Switzerland? (Jonathan Steinberg, 1976). Steinberg explains how a country with four official languages can still have a common culture.

Books: Fiction

  • Einstein's Dreams (Alan Lightman, 1992). A young Albert Einstein wrests with his theory of relativity in turn-of-the-century Bern.
  • A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway, 1929). Two lovers struggle through the horrors of World War I, finding brief peace in Switzerland in the last act.
  • Hotel du Lac (Anita Brookner, 1995). A writer of romance novels attempts to recover from her own misguided love affair by fleeing to Switzerland.
  • Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818). Set partially in Geneva, this novel explores the nature of humanity when scientist Victor Frankenstein creates a monster and brings it to life.
  • I'm Not Stiller (Max Frisch, 1954). In an attempt to reclaim his true identity, a prisoner in a small Swiss town recounts his adventurous life.
  • The Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann, 1924). An exclusive sanatorium high in the Alps is a microcosm for European society in the days before World War I.
  • The Night Manager (John le Carré, 1993). The fussy manager of a Swiss hotel is recruited by British intelligence to bring down a millionaire gunrunner.
  • The Watchers (Jon Steele, 2011). Three strangers in Lausanne must solve the mysteries haunting their town.
  • William Tell (Friedrich Schiller, 1804). William Tell, legendary Swiss marksman, fights for Swiss independence from the Habsburg Empire in the 14th century.

Films

  • The Bourne Identity (2002). This action movie, set mostly in Prague, pits an amnesiac spy against his pursuers in the heart of Zürich.
  • Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). In the longest-running film in Indian cinema, two young people fall in love on a trip to Switzerland.
  • The Eiger Sanction (1975). A man joins an expedition up the Eiger to avenge the murder of his friend in this film partially set in Kleine Scheidegg.
  • Five Days One Summer (1982). Sean Connery stars in the tale of an incestuous love triangle, offset by breathtaking climbing sequences in the Swiss Alps.
  • Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976). A group of student activists living in Geneva face disillusionment during the late 1960s.
  • Journey of Hope (1990). Three members of a Kurdish family search for a better life in Switzerland.
  • North Face (2008). Based on a true story, this film chronicles the 1936 attempt by two Germans to scale the Eiger's "wall of death."
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). James Bond goes undercover in the Swiss Alps, with action sequences set on the slopes of the Schilthorn.
  • The Swissmakers (1978). The most popular Swiss movie ever made showcases a group of foreigners trying to get Swiss citizenship.
  • Three Colors: Red (1994). In the Oscar-nominated final film of the acclaimed Three Colors Trilogy, a young model living in Geneva confronts interpersonal issues when she meets a cynical judge.

For Kids

  • And Both Were Young (Madeleine L'Engle, 1983). In a tale for teens, Philippa struggles to find her place at a Swiss boarding school until she starts a secret romance and gains new friends.
  • Asterix in Switzerland (René Goscinny, 1970). Asterix and Obelix have adventures in Switzerland during Roman times in book number 16 of this beloved French cartoon series.
  • Banner in the Sky (James Ramsey Ullman, 1954). Young Rudi Matt tries to climb one of the world's most forbidding Alpine peaks in this Newbery Honor book.
  • A Bell for Ursli (Selina Chönz, 2007). High in the Alps, a boy named Ursli hikes alone into the snowy mountains to find a big bell with which to lead the spring procession.
  • Count Karlstein (Philip Pullman, 2000). Two girls escape the sinister plot of their uncle — an evil count — in this humorous middle-grade thriller set in a Swiss village in 1816.
  • Dear Alexandra: A Story of Switzerland (Helen Gudel, 1999). This charming picture book takes the form of letters from a grandmother who awaits her granddaughter's visit in a Swiss mountain village.
  • Heidi (Johanna Spyri, 1880). In the most famous novel about Switzerland, an orphan girl is sent to live with her grandfather in the Alps. A popular film version starring Shirley Temple was released in 1937.
  • Pitschi (Hans Fischer, 1947). In this Swiss children's classic, a kitten named Pitschi sets out to find her place among the animals on Old Lisette's farm.
  • A Tale of Two Brothers (Eveline Hasler, 2006). This Swiss-Italian folk tale of two brothers with vastly different world views delivers a moral about the power of positive thinking.
  • William Tell: One Against an Empire (Paul D. Storrie, 2008). This dynamic retelling of the legendary Swiss hunter's story is presented in graphic novel format.