Switzerland: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn more about Switzerland past and present, consider these books and films.

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.


  • 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.