If traveling in Switzerland is on the horizon for you, why not enhance your journey by reading a few books about the Alpine country and its people? Yes, there are some excellent movies about Switzerland, but you can go deeper inside a character’s head by reading a book instead. This list of the best books about Switzerland includes fiction and non-fiction titles for your reading pleasure.
Slow Train to Switzerland
This non-fiction account of traveling in Switzerland was written by Diccon Bewes, a British ex-pat, travel writer, and best-selling author of Swiss Watching. His book Slow Train to China is an account of seven people who departed from London in 1863 for a thrilling train ride across the Alps.
The seven travelers were members of the Junior United Alpine Club and joined the first conducted tour of Switzerland by Thomas Cook. Cook was the founder of the travel agency Thomas Cook & Sons, one of the first developers of the “package tour” which included amenities such as accommodations. The concept later became the birth of mass tourism.
Bewes obtained a copy of one of the club member’s travel diaries, and along with the club’s 19th-century guidebook sets out to retrace their steps with a train ride from London to Lucerne. He weaves a story that compares how people traveled in the past to the present with a surprising twist that includes a personal connection to the author of the diary.
The classic children’s novel Heidi was written by Johanna Spyri, one of the most famous Swiss writers of all time. The book was published in two volumes in 1880-81.
The work of fiction tells the story of a young orphaned girl who is sent by her aunt to live with the girl’s grandfather, a bitter and reclusive goatherd who lives in the remote Swiss Alps. Aunt Dete has taken a new job and is no longer able to take care of Heidi.
Heidi falls in love with her life in the mountains and makes friends with Peter, a young goatherd who lives with his blind grandmother.
But alas, Aunt Dete returns and finds out Grandfather refuses to send Heidi to school or church. Aunt Dete, who has found a job for her niece as a caretaker for Clara, a young wheelchair-bound girl who lives in Frankfurt decides Heidi would be better off living with them.
Heidi misses her life with Grandfather. She becomes depressed and begins sleepwalking. A kind doctor intervenes and Heidi is sent back to her grandfather. When Clara comes to visit, a jealous Peter gives her wheelchair a violent push and causes it to break. But Heidi and Peter intervene and help Clara learn to walk again.
Clara’s father is thrilled and promises to care for Heidi when her grandfather dies.
Swiss Watching: Inside the Land of Milk and Money
This nonfiction read by the aforementioned ex-pat and travel writer Diccon Bewes dispels some of the myths surrounding the Swiss. The title, which is a play on words for
The phrase “the land of milk and honey,” aptly describes the book as exposing Switzerland as a land of contradictions.
Bewes tears apart some of the Swiss stereotypes of chocolate, cheese, watches, and punctuality with an honest look at Switzerland from the inside. For example, in spite of being known for courtesy and cleanliness, it has some of Europe’s worst graffiti, bans recycling on Sundays, and has more guns per person than Iraq.
Swiss Watching: Inside the Land of Milk and Money was voted as a “Best Book of 2010” by the Financial Times.
Hotel Du Lac
Hotel Du Lac is a Booker Prize-winning novel (1984) written by British writer and art historian Anita Brookner. It tells the story of romance novelist Edith Hope who writes steamy novels under the pen name Vanessa Wilde. After realizing that her life is beginning to resemble her novels’ own plots, Edith takes off for the quiet luxury of a hotel on Lake Geneva at the behest of her friends. They encourage her to come to her senses and find peace by escaping a scandal (which isn’t entirely revealed until halfway through the book.)
But it’s not in the cards for mousey, middle-aged Edith to get her mundane and predictable life back. Instead, she finds herself entangled in a circle of eccentric, mostly female guests at the old-fashioned hotel in the off-season. She unsuccessfully avoids the advances of a worldly gentleman who sets out to release Edith’s penchant for pleasure and mischief.
Hotel Du Lac is full of wit and humor. And yes, there is a real Hotel Du Lac. It’s located in Vevey on the shores of beautiful Lake Geneva.
Very few horror stories have captured the imagination of readers more than Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Then Mary Godwin, Shelly, and Percy Bysshe Shelley spent a rainy summer visiting their friend Lord Byron, an English romantic poet. To while away their time, they began writing ghost stories to entertain each other during the dreary weather. Mary submitted the story to a contest and it was published anonymously in 1818.
Frankenstein tells the story of a brilliant yet strange scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who discovers how to give life to inanimate matter. The hideous monster he creates is an 8-foot-tall creature who is fast, smart, and strong. When Frankenstein rejects the monster he created, it spirals out of control and changes its creator’s life forever.
Thought to be the first science fiction novel, the narrative centers around the theme of morality and the consequences of having the power to control life and death.
Frankenstein has inspired numerous movies, TV adaptions, and theatrical performances.
Written by Sharon Creech and first published in 1998, Bloomability is an inspiring coming-of-age realistic fiction book for middle grades to young adults.
It’s the story of Domenica Santolina Doone, or Dinnie as she’s better known. Dinnie is from the United States, and against her will, gets whisked off to an international boarding school in Lugano, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland by her aunt and uncle.
Although she’s used to change—her father is constantly moving the family to search for new “opportunities”—, she feels as if she’s been kidnapped. Suddenly, she’s in the midst of kids from different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. Will she learn to cope and realize all of the possible “bloomabilities?”.
Bloomability is a YA title, but anyone traveling to Switzerland will glean a lot about a country full of mixed cultures.
The Swiss Family Robinson
This classic tale is the story of a Swiss family who must survive after their ship is wrecked on the way to Australia and the crew is lost. Although the setting is a tropical island, the story explores the endurance, cleverness, and faith the Swiss people are known for.
One of the most popular books of all time, The Swiss Family Robinson was written by Johann David Wyss, a native of Bern. It was first published in 1812 and translated into English in 1814. It was edited by Johann’s son who wrote the Swiss national anthem and illustrated by another son.
In 1960, The Swiss Family Robinson was the basis for an American adventure film by Walt Disney productions.
Swiss History in a Nutshell
Switzerland is a country full of rich and colorful history. Make the most of your trip to Switzerland by learning all about the country’s history in this in this easy-to-read and humorously illustrated book by Grégoire Nappey. The author takes us from cavemen to conquest highlighting the country’s military power in Europe and the evolution of a direct democracy and stable federal republic.
Nappey explains how Swiss cultural differences originated, its politics, and industrial relations.
Swiss History, in a Nutshell, is a must-read for anyone traveling to Switzerland.
The White Spider
The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer is a true account of a harrowing yet successful ascent of the Eiger’s North Face by Harrer and his climbing companions in 1938. It also expands upon the attempts of climbing a wall of rock that ended tragically in Eiger Dreams by mountaineer John Krakauer.
Mountaineering in the Alps is an important part of Switzerland’s culture. The White Spider is an interesting read that defends the danger of this extreme sport.
The book was first published in German in 1960 and translated into English by Hugh Merrick.
Hausfrau is a steamy adult novel written by Jill Alexander Essbaum, an American professor and writer. The title of the book is the German word for “housewife”.
The main character in the story is Anna Benz, a thirty-ish woman married to Bruno, a staunch and stuffy Swiss banker. The couple and their three young children reside in a picturesque suburb of Zurich.
Anna seems to have a perfect life, but she is falling apart inside. She becomes emotionally detached from her banker husband and seeks solace in Jungian analysis, German language classes, and a few sexual affairs that she finds surprisingly easy. She wants to end the affairs but finds it difficult to break away. After crossing a moral threshold, her life spins out of control and she must make some disastrous choices.
Will Anna get her old life back, or is she forever changed?
Pack Essbaum’s debut novel to read by the pool or the lake on your trip to Switzerland.