I’ve recently relocated to Amsterdam and can now call this truly beautiful city home. To help acquaint myself with the history of this floating city, I’ve been diving into a selection of books set in Amsterdam.
This list includes the timeless classic The Diary of A Young Girl; essential reading if you’re planning a visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Other more contemporary books set in Amsterdam include The Dinner, The Fault In Our Stars and The Goldfinch.
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Where To Read In Amsterdam
While I’m still new to the city, I’m already enjoying the Dutch appreciation for the outdoors. In summer, my favorite place to read is the bustling Vondelpark followed by any of the canals, grab a coffee and dangle your legs over the edge. Meanwhile in winter, there are plenty of local coffee haunts such as Bocca Coffee and Lot Sixty One. I also like perusing the books at Boekhandel Van Rossum.
Books Set In Amsterdam
The Diary of A Young Girl
By Anne Frank, 1947
Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.
In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.
The Light of Amsterdam
By David Park, 2012
It is December in Belfast, Christmas is approaching and three sets of people are about to make their way to Amsterdam.
As these people brush against each other in the squares, museums and parks of Amsterdam, their lives are transfigured as they encounter the complexities of love in a city that challenges what has gone before. Tender and humane, and elevating the ordinary to something timeless and important, The Light of Amsterdam is a novel of compassion and rare dignity.
By Herman Koch, 2009
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.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
By Jessie Burton, 2014
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.
The Fault In Our Stars
By John Green, 2014
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City
By Geert Mak, 1994
A magnet for trade and travellers from all over the world, stylish, cosmopolitan Amsterdam is a city of dreams and nightmares, of grand civic architecture and legendary beauty, but also of civil wars, bloody religious purges, and the tragedy of Anne Frank.
In this fascinating examination of the city’s soul, part history, part travel guide, Geert Mak imaginatively recreates the lives of the early Amsterdammers, and traces Amsterdam’s progress from waterlogged settlement to a major financial centre and thriving modern metropolis.
The Coffee Trader
By David Liss, 2003
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.
By Deborah Moggach, 1999
A tale of art, beauty, lust, greed, deception and retribution – set in a refined society ablaze with tulip fever.
In 1630s Amsterdam, tulipomania has seized the populace. Everywhere men are seduced by the fantastic exotic flower. But for wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort, it is his young and beautiful wife, Sophia, who stirs his soul. She is the prize he desires, the woman he hopes will bring him the joy that not even his considerable fortune can buy.
By Donna Tartt, 2013
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
By Albert Camus, 1956
Jean-Baptiste Clamence is a soul in turmoil. Over several drunken nights he regales a chance acquaintance with his story. From this successful former lawyer and seemingly model citizen a compelling, self-loathing catalogue of guilt, hypocrisy and alienation pours forth. The Fall is a brilliant portrayal of a man who has glimpsed the hollowness of his existence. But beyond depicting one man’s disillusionment, Camus’s novel exposes the universal human condition and its absurdities – and our innocence that, once lost, can never be recaptured.
The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam
By Chris Ewan, 2007
Charlie Howard travels the globe writing suspense novels for a living, about an intrepid burglar named Faulks.To supplement his income – and to keep his hand in – Charlie also has a small side business: stealing for a very discreet clientele on commission.
When a mysterious American offers to pay Charlie 20,000 euros if he steals two small monkey figurines to match the one he already has, Charlie is suspicious; he doesn’t know how the American found him, and the job seems too good to be true.
By Willem Elsschot, 1933
Cheese is a gentle, satirical fable of capitalism and wealth. A clerk in Antwerp suddenly becomes the chief agent in Belgium and Luxembourg for Edam cheese and is saddled with 10,000 wheels of the red-rinded delight. But he has no idea how to run a business or how to sell his goods, and what’s more, he doesn’t even like cheese. Steeped in the atmosphere of the 1930s, an era of smart operators and failed businessmen, Cheese gracefully portrays the rigid class divisions of the time and a man’s obsession with status. This comic masterpiece about the perils of upward mobility is as relevant in the age of Internet investors and dot-com failures as it was when it was written.
Note: this novel is set in Belgium, but is included here as cheese is an essential in the region.
Outsider In Amsterdam (Amsterdam Cops #1)
By Janwillem van de Wetering, 1975
On a quiet street in downtown Amsterdam, the founder of a new religious society/commune—a group that calls itself “Hindist” and mixes elements of various “Eastern” traditions—is found hanging from a ceiling beam. Detective-Adjutant Grijpstra and Sergeant de Gier of the Amsterdam police are sent to investigate what looks like a simple suicide, but they are immediately suspicious of the circumstances.
Hotel Oblivion in Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It
By Geoff Dyer, 2003
As he travels from Amsterdam to Cambodia, Rome to Indonesia, Libya to Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert, Dyer flounders about in a sea of grievances, with fleeting moments of transcendental calm his only reward for living in a perpetual state of motion. But even as he recounts his side-splitting misadventures in each of these locales, Dyer is always able to sneak up and surprise you with insight into much more serious matters. Brilliantly riffing off our expectations of external and internal journeys, Dyer welcomes the reader as a companion, a fellow perambulator in search of something and nothing at the same time.
The Evenings (De Avonden)
By Gerard Reve, 1947
Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – finds life absurd and inexplicable. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.
This is the story of ten evenings in Frits’s life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city streets and tries to makes sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.
Love In Amsterdam
By Nicolas Freeling, 1962
Freeling’s first novel is told from the perspective of the prime suspect, who is caught in a web of seemingly incontestable circumstantial evidence, evidence so overwhelming that he begins to doubt himself. But Inspector Van der Valk comes to the rescue in a dashing and charming style.
The Apothecary’s House
By Adrian Mathews, 2005
When an old woman storms into the Rijksmuseum demanding the return of her painting, archivist Ruth Braams cannot quell her curiosity. Ruth delves into the history of the piece of looted Nazi art and discovers an enigmatic picture with a disturbing wartime provenance. It also appears that the elderly Lydia is not the only claimant and, against strict bureau regulations, Ruth endeavours to help strengthen her case.
In Lucia’s Eyes
By Arthur Japin, 2003
Lucia works as a servant girl in Italy and is engaged to be married. But after the pox disfigures her face, she flees in shame without telling her lover. Years later, as a reknowned Amsterdam courtesan who never goes out without her veil, Lucia is at the theater when she recognizes her long-lost fiancé, Giacomo Casanova; and she cannot resist the opportunity to encounter him again. Based on a woman who appeared briefly in Casanova’s legendary diaries, Lucia emerges as a brilliant woman who becomes every bit his match.
The Golden Tulip
By Rosalind Laker, 1991
Francesca’s father is a well-known painter in the bustling port city of Amsterdam; he is also a gambler. Though their household is in economic chaos, thankfully the lessons she learned in his studio have prepared her to study with Johannes Vermeer, the master of Delft.
When she arrives to begin her apprenticeship, Francesca is stunned to find rules, written in her father’s hand, insisting that she give up the freedoms she once enjoyed at home- including her friendship with Pieter van Doorne, a tulip merchant.
Tumbleweed (Amsterdam Cops #2)
By Janwillem van de Wetering, 1976
Maria van Buren, a beautiful, high-class prostitute, is found dead with a knife in her back in her houseboat on an Amsterdam canal. Grijpstra and de Gier must solve the murder. Her tony clients all have sound alibis. Before the murderer is caught, the detectives and their commissaris will investigate allegations of black magic, travel to Curacao, and pursue clues to a chilly island off the coast of Holland.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
By Tracy Chevalier, 1999
This story isn’t set in Amsterdam, but is essential reading if visiting The Netherlands nonetheless! Set in Delft, it’s based on the painting of the same name which currently hangs in the Mauritshuis in Den Haag.
Girl with a Pearl Earring centers on Vermeer’s prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel’s quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant–and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model.
What do you think of these books set in Amsterdam?
Have a great book recommendation I’ve missed? Are you visiting the city sometime soon? I’d love to hear more about your travels and books set in Amsterdam in the comments below!