One of my favorite things to do is to pick up a book about a destination before I get there. I’ve been living in Amsterdam and these are my favorite books about Amsterdam. I’ve also included some favorite books about Amsterdam from friends of mine.
My favorite books about Amsterdam
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City
For anyone who’s a history geek, this masterpiece about the history of Amsterdam is a must-read. It’s big, so you might not finish Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City before your trip to Amsterdam, but you’ll be fascinated to learn how Amsterdam became the most liberal city in the world.
The Coffee Trader
I liked the Coffee Trader although it’s not my favorite book. It’s a fun historical book about Amsterdam that really taught me a lot about the history of coffee. It also introduced me to the concept of secret churches, which you can visit while you’re in Amsterdam.
On the world’s first commodities exchange, fortunes are won and lost in an instant. Miguel Lienzo, a sharp-witted trader in the city’s close-knit community of Portuguese Jews, knows this only too well. Once among the city’s most envied merchants, Miguel has lost everything in a sudden shift in the sugar markets. Now, impoverished and humiliated, living on the charity of his petty younger brother, Miguel must find a way to restore his wealth and reputation.
Miguel enters into a partnership with a seductive Dutch woman who offers him one last chance at success—a daring plot to corner the market of an astonishing new commodity called “coffee.” To succeed, Miguel must risk everything he values and test the limits of his commercial guile, facing not only the chaos of the markets and the greed of his competitors, but also a powerful enemy who will stop at nothing to see him ruined. Miguel will learn that among Amsterdam’s ruthless businessmen, betrayal lurks everywhere, and even friends hide secret agendas.
The Miniaturist is one of my favorite books about Amsterdam. I read it shortly before moving to Amsterdam and it really brought alive what it was like living in the Golden Age. I also enjoyed the story immensely although it’s more for those who enjoy historical fiction that tends to be a bit lighter.
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.
But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .
Anne Frank’s Diary
I first had to read Anne Frank’s Diary in 8th grade and it really moved me then. Living in Amsterdam gave me the opportunity to finally visit her house and to see one of the originals of the diary in Dutch. I think that it’s really powerful to read the Diary of Anne Frank before visiting the Anne Frank House as it gives you a true appreciation for what her family went through. Once I was in the house, I spend a while imagining Anne and her whole family in there–and I really think it made visiting the house more powerful for me. It’s definitely a must-read book before visiting Amsterdam.
This modern Dutch classic by Herman author Herman Koch is for those with a twisted sense of humor. It’s one of those books that people love or hate, however I personally loved The Dinner. It’s sharp, twisting, and a fun read that you’ll burn through.
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened….
Amsterdam Pub Cats.
If you’re a cat lover, I so recommend bringing home this delightful local read about the cats of Amsterdam. If you’re a cat lover, you can follow my recommendations for meeting the cutest cats of Amsterdam. You can only find this book at the local bookstores.
The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam
I really enjoy the work of Chris Ewan, so I’ve included this book on here although it’s more of a fun read when I’m in the mood for something playful, and quick. The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam is an old school crime novel about a burglar who takes a suspicious job in Amsterdam…
Friend’s favorite books about Amsterdam
Reading taste is quite subjective. While I haven’t been able to get into these, they were highly recommended by friends of mine who are literature lovers.
In Lucia’s Eyes
I’m not one for romance novels (even if they’re historical fiction), but In Lucia’s Eyes is a tale about an Italian courtesan who lives in Amsterdam who falls in love with her match…Casanova.
The Apothecary’s House
A more modern story about a painting that was looted from the Rijksmuseum during World War II. If you’re into historical fiction, intrigue/crime, and art, The Apothecary’s House might be for you!
This book about the Golden Age of Amsterdam is a tale of tulips, art, and romance. Tulip Fever was recently made into a movie, however if you’re looking for a beautifully written book that will transport you to another era, this is your book.
The Black Tulip
The Black Tulip is a classic book about the Netherlands by Alexandre Dumas (yes, that one!). It’s the story of a trader who decides to get into the tulip trade… It’s a slow build-up, but a nice read if you’re into classic.
The Evenings is a Dutch classic by Amsterdammer author Gerard Reve. It’s not for everyone, but for those with a sharp sense of humor (think Catcher in the Rye), it might be an enjoyable read.
Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance
For those looking for a fascinating nonfiction read about the Netherlands, Murder in Amsterdam is a well-written journalistic book about the murder of controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who produced controversial films about Islam. His murder signaled a major change in the Netherlands in terms of the dialogue about Muslims and what tolerance means today in the Netherlands.
The Light of Amsterdam
The Light of Amsterdam is a family drama about divorced parents. It’s a family drama book, so if this is what you enjoy, it’s supposed to be heart-warming.
The Fault in Our Stars
I personally didn’t enjoy this book (Sorry!), but it’s most of my friends love it. The Fault in Our Stars is a teen love story that is beloved by both adults and children. It’s about a teen that has terminal cancer in Amsterdam…
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
The best independent bookstores in Amsterdam for English books
One of my favorite souvenirs from any country is a good book. Besides typically Dutch souvenirs, I recommend bringing home a new book. You should be able to find most of these these books at any decent bookstore in Amsterdam, however I have some favorites. I believe in going to non-chain bookstores and these are my favorite independent bookstores in Amsterdam with a good English book selection where you should be able to find these books.
American Book Center
This bookshop around the corner from one of the most famous hofjes in Amsterdam and the best cookies in Amsterdam has a fantastic book selection with some used books upstairs. They have a massive Dutch book selection as well as nonfiction books about city of Amsterdam. One of my favorite bookstores in Amsterdam.
The English Bookshop
This smaller bookshop in Amsterdam Centre has a good selection of English books although you’re likely to find a steal as many of their books are second-hand. I like browsing although coming here is a bit dangerous for me!
What’s your favorite book about Amsterdam? Let me know if I missed any!
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Have to check out all of these books! Currently reading Anne Frank’s Diary and really wish that I’d done that before visiting the house (:
I found Geert Mak’s ‘A brief life of the city’ fascinating. But I definitely want to read more books on the city. I’m curious about ‘The Evenings’ or ‘The Black Tulip’ (I’m a sucker for a good classic). Keep up the good work!
I enjoyed Reunion, by L.Coulomb. Great little read. Nicely paced.
The best children’s picture book (toddlers) to buy on Amsterdam is “Amsterdamse Dingen” (Amsterdam Things). There are many (award winning) “Dingen” books issued by the authors Immink + Faber, also a Dutch Things book.
Tulip Fever- has been made into a movie. The Miniaturist- was shown on PBS a short while ago as a mini series. Both were very interesting.
The Diary of Anne Frank- I read long ago in college.
I am reading up the history of the Netherlands in preparing for our upcoming trip in April.
Thank you for your very interesting blog.
A View across the Rooftops. A warm fast-moving story set in Nazi occupied Amsterdam.