Books about Switzerland : history and society
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Nicolas Bouvier, Gordon A. Craig & Lionel Gossman, Geneva, Zürich, Basel (Princeton UP). Learned modern-day portrait of the three biggest and most important Swiss cities, pulling in strands of history, culture and national identity to paint a picture of present-day Swiss urbanism.

Tom Bower, Blood Money (Pan) and Nazi Gold (Harperperennial, US). Two recent exposés of the Nazi gold scandal, both sensational airport-style paperbacks full of shocked prose, but both nonetheless getting down to the nitty-gritty.

Joy Charnley & Malcolm Pender (eds), Images of Switzerland: Challenges from the Margins (Peter Lang, Bern). Slender collection of essays published by the Centre for Swiss Cultural Studies at Glasgow University, including a review of historical attitudes towards the Jews before World War II, and assessments of themes of marginalization in recent Swiss-German, -French and -Italian literature.

Walter Dettwiler, William Tell: Portrait of a Legend (Swiss National Museum). Fascinating little study of the web of tales surrounding the Swiss national hero, and the many different ways the story has been told over the centuries to suit the concerns of each particular age.

Dieter Fahrni, An Outline History of Switzerland (Pro Helvetia). Compact 130-page overview of the main events in Swiss history from Julius Caesar to the Nazi gold scandal, a little gushing on recent events and accomplishments (this is, after all, published by the official Arts Council of Switzerland) but nonetheless valuable for its clarity and simplicity of approach. Available free from Swiss embassies worldwide.

Stephen P. Halbrook, Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II (Sarpedon). Controversial work putting forward the thesis that it was the mobilization of Switzerland’s citizen army, and not high-level politicking and collaboration, that kept the Third Reich at bay during World War II. Lambasted for being naive, it nonetheless brings some interesting facts to light, although remains ultimately unconvincing.

Rolf Kieser & Kurt R. Spillmann (eds), The New Switzerland: Problems and Policies (Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, Palo Alto, US). Twenty-eight essays by political and historical specialists on aspects of Swiss culture and society at the end of the century, universal in approach and coverage.

Adam LeBor, Hitler’s Secret Bankers (Simon & Schuster). Cool, clear uncovering of the role Switzerland – and particularly Basel’s Bank of International Settlements – played in laundering Nazi assets and funding both the Nazi and Allied war machines.

Caroline Moorhead, Dunant’s Dream (HarperCollins). Subtitled “War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross”, this is a massively detailed trawl through the previously closed archives of the Red Cross, documenting the history of the organization and the sometimes hesitant entanglements of its well-intentioned bureaucrats in the nastiest wars of the twentieth century.

Mitya New, Switzerland Unwrapped (I.B. Tauris). Fascinating delve into the country’s skeleton-rich cupboards, presenting eye-witness accounts of Swiss treatment of Jews and gypsies, attempts to solve Zürich’s drug problems, traditional Swiss culture and how it fits into modern society, and more, well written by a Reuters journalist with an eye for a story.

Joachim Remak, A Very Civil War (Westview Press). Illustrated chronicle of the Sonderbund war of 1847 that draws many parallels with the events of the American civil war that followed within fifteen years.

Jonathan Steinberg, Why Switzerland? (Cambridge UP). Outstanding overview of Swiss society, history and culture, a learned yet anecdotal account of the country that is rich with detail but maintains a superb grasp of the wider picture. Manages to give profound insight into how Switzerland works, and why it is the way it is, while remaining easily readable and digestible. Perfect train-journey reading: if you buy only one book about the country, buy this one.

John Wraight, The Swiss and the British (Michael Russell o/p). Comprehensive study of relations between the two countries – political, cultural, sporting, military and more – in the form of an exhaustive chronology from the earliest times until the present day. Currently out of print, but scheduled for a new edition by 2001.

Jean Ziegler, The Swiss, The Gold and the Dead (Harcourt Trade/Penguin). Of all the flood of books that jumped onto the bandwagon of the Nazi gold scandal once the depth of Swiss collaboration became clear, this was the most devastating, written by a highly qualified academic at the University of Geneva and former Federal Council member – hounded and now politically ostracized for remaining uncowed by the storm of protest his revelations unleashed. His calm condemnation of the entire Swiss establishment for their role in funding the Nazis, perpetuating the war and refusing to come to the help of the Jews endeared him to no one, but he is nonetheless sticking to his guns from the political wilderness. For that if nothing else, this is the cream of the “Nazi Gold” crop.

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