Lately, I have been asked about some Czech book recommendations which made me think what to recommend to people interested in the Czech history, culture and mentality. “Luckily” the Czech history is rich with drama and oppression, which gave breeding ground to great storytelling. Unluckily, much of it has not been translated to English. Necessary then, when recommending books to foreigners, I have to limit the recommendation to translations. These were more often than not penned by authors living in exile, which does carry the benefit that these authors were often able to contrast the Czech and foreign experience.

Below are five books I would recommend to anyone who wants to get better understanding of Czech history, culture and mentality, with one bonus book for those who can read Czech.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This list would not be complete without Kundera on it. The Unbearable Lightness of being is one of the most widely read books by a Czech author. He penned it after 10 years living in France. The book actually first appeared in French. It follows a turbulent relationship of a romantic couple on the background of events following the Prague Spring of 1968.

Goodreads link

Believe in People: The Essential Karel Capek

Karel Capek was a writer extraordinaire who penned masterpieces of plays, novels, travel journals, letters and columns. It’s the latter two that the most directly showcase his talent to describe the human condition with his characteristic empathy, understanding and wit. Nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times without receiving one, he is probably my favorite Czech author. You can find some of his essays translated at the public depository of the University of Oregon

Goodreads link

The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert

Jaroslav Seifert is the only Czechoslovak who ever won a Nobel Prize in Literature “for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man”. A complicated figure in the Czech post-war history, he was a supporter of communism for many years before he started criticizing the party and siding with pro-democracy movements. Nevertheless, his poetry does match up to the Nobel Prize committee judgment.

Goodreads link

The Good Soldier Svejk

Satire is Czech’s favorite type of humor. This comic book mocking the war and showcasing its futility is one of the Czech classics. Arguable, at nearly 800 pages the book is very long, so you are better of watching the movie of the same name.

Goodreads link

Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990

Vaclav Havel is the most prominent political figure of the late 20th century of Czechoslovakia, and one of the most prominent leaders in that period worldwide. His influence spans well beyond the national borders, and he was pivotal in the end of Soviet rule throughout the central and eastern Europe. He received honors and awards from over 25 distinct countries, including the highest civilian award of the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Apart from his political career he has written numerous theater plays and poems. It’s in his letters and essays that his literary and politics personas come the closest together and offer an unique view to the events that lead up to the Velvet Revolution.

Goodreads link

Bonus: Kapesní průvodce inteligentní ženy po vlastním osudu

In my point of view, this is the best book to understand the Czech mentality and the events of the 20th century that shaped it. Written as a dialogue between the author, and young woman considering emigration from Czechoslovakia, it will help you understand what were the pivotal events in Czechoslovakian 20th century history and how they shaped the Czech mentality. Unfortunately, as it has not been translated to English, you would have to learn Czech first to read it.


It is important to note that the authors on the list are, at least to some degree, Slovak as well, as they worked in Czechoslovakia. Similarly, it won’t take you a long time to notice: none of the books on the list are by female writers. Unfortunately, they are severely underrepresented in the Czechoslovak literary space of the 19th 20th century. If you wish to learn more about the handful of somewhat more prominent ones, check the profiles of Božena Němcová, Gabriela Preissová, Karolina Světlá, andEva Kantůrková.

Do you have a favorite book that you think should be on the list? Have you read any of these books and want to share how you liked it? Let me know in the comments below!