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Publisher's Summary

The Instant New York Times Best Seller

A New York Times Notable Book of 2021
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
Wall Street Journal 10 Best Books of 2021
Time Magazine 100 Must-Read Books of 2021
Publishers Weekly Top Ten Books of 2021
An Economist Best Book of the Year
Oprah Daily Best New Books of August
A New York Public Library Book of the Week

In this “stunning literary achievement”, Donner chronicles the extraordinary life and brutal death of her great-great-aunt Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during WWII - “a page-turner story of espionage, love and betrayal” (Kai Bird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography)

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was 26 when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment - a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited working-class Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage, and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. Her coconspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired, she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. At a Nazi military court, a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On February 16, 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.

Historians identify Mildred Harnack as the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, yet her remarkable story has remained almost unknown until now.

Harnack’s great-great-niece Rebecca Donner draws on her extensive archival research in Germany, Russia, England, and the U.S. as well as newly uncovered documents in her family archive to produce this astonishing work of narrative nonfiction. Fusing elements of biography, real-life political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Donner brilliantly interweaves letters, diary entries, notes smuggled out of a Berlin prison, survivors’ testimony, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, epic story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased by history.

©2021 Rebecca Donner (P)2021 Little, Brown & Company

Critic Reviews

"Extraordinarily intimate.... Wilder and more expansive than a standard-issue biography…a real-life thriller with a cruel ending - not to mention an account of Hitler’s ascent from attention-seeking buffoon to genocidal Führer.” (Jennifer Szalai, New York Times)

“Rebecca Donner has written a beautifully rich portrait of a very brave woman. While never less than scrupulously researched, this biography explodes the genre of 'biography': experimental but achieved, Donner's story reads with the speed of a thriller, the depth of a novel, and the urgency of an essay, like some deeply compelling blend of Alan Furst and W.G. Sebald.” (James Wood, author of Serious Noticing: Selected Essays 1997-2019)

“Highly evocative, deeply moving, a stunning literary achievement. Rebecca Donner forges a new kind of biography - almost novelistic in style and tone, this scholarly work resurrects the courageous life Mildred Harnack, an unsung American hero who led part of the German resistance to the Nazi regime. A relentless sleuth in the archives, Donner has written a page-turner story of espionage, love, and betrayal.” (Kai Bird, author of The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames and coauthor of Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer)

What listeners say about All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Riveting narrative non fiction

Rebecca Donner recreates the build up of terror within Nazi Germany over a 13 year period as she recounts the true, untold story of her great aunt Mildred Fish Harnack, an American who formed part of the Resistance to Hitler. Mildred is a professor of American literature lecturing in Berlin on contemporary American authors. She and her German husband Arvid are both communist sympathizers. Even so, Arvid who holds a high post in the Nazi Bureau of Economic Affairs befriends American consular official Donald Heath and his wife Louise. He proceeds to pass on important secrets about Hitler's true plans for the invasion of Poland, Russia and domination of Europe. Donner recounts harrowing scenes where the two couples travel to rural areas outside of Berlin where the Heath's 12 year old son Don, Jr. acts as lookout and in some cases serves as courier between the families. After they are caught and tortured, Hitler demands their execution: Arvid is hanged and Mildred is guillotined in a horrific and tragic end to their heroic lives. In searing narrative nonfiction, part biography, part social history there is an eerie message for the contemporary reader. It details how easily a constitution can be challenged, the free press suppressed, and a democracy unraveled within a short few years. The audio edition is read by the author who deftly uses her intimate knowledge of the text to bring this riveting story to life.

31 people found this helpful

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Well researched and fascinating story

The performance, for my taste, is too breathless and emphatic, which is totally unnecessary as the story speaks for itself.

It was, in my opinion, a poor choice and I almost turned it off within the first few minutes but then got used to it and tolerated it. Her German pronunciation was, on the other hand, excellent.

24 people found this helpful

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How the Nazis Came to Power As the Germans Slept

This was an incredible listen. This audiobook went into fine detail about the life of the American woman who was a leader in the German Resistance against Hitler and the National Socialist regime. This is a story about an American woman who risked everything to fight the Nazis and anti-semitism. It ended with her torture & interrogation by the Gestapo and her execution by guillotine, her bodily dissection, & cremation by the SS.
This book came alive for me because I had visited almost all of the places mentioned in this audiobook in the early 1980's as a US soldier living in West Berlin. I have visited the Plötzensee Memorial as well.
This book brings to reality the pure evil and hatred of the Nazis like no other book I have read.
It is a shame that the consirators were caught because their Soviet foreign intelligence handlers didn't practice operations security, which allowed Nazi code breakers to find out their addresses and whereabouts and take them into custody.

22 people found this helpful

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An engrossing story, beautifully read

I thought I had read and seen enough about Hitler and the horror show he engineered in Germany and throughout Europe, but I was mistaken. I found this true story about an American woman who played an active role in the German resistance fascinating. I had no idea that there was a German resistance to Hitler’s regime, much less one that was assisted by an American from the Midwest. The author, who is the heroine’s grand niece has done extensive research using Mildred’s letters and recollections of her colleagues and fellow-prisoners as well as trial transcripts and other recently released US government information. She magically folds all of these facts into a suspenseful narrative that kept my rapt attention even though I already knew how it all ends. I don’t believe the author is a professional reader, but she does a terrific job of narrating the book, her voice is nice to listen to and her pronunciation of German terms and names is excellent. I highly recommend this book and look forward to anything else Ms. Donner writes or reads. She is s true talent.

18 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Disappointing

First, the positive, Excellent story, much potential. Unfortunately, the writing was choppy (overuse of "and" and stringing lists together, like citing the authors of banned books). There was so much of this that it started to tick me off.

The narrator kept pausing, ostensibly to highlight when there were quoted, but it sounded like an obviously dubbed tape. Kept to the overall theme of choppiness.

I am about 2/3rds of the way through the book and am only continuing with it because of the compelling story. In another author's hand, it would have been much better.

18 people found this helpful

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Amazing story but a bit tedious

The book chronicles Germany’s slide into totalitarianism, seemingly overnight and all too easily. America beware.

15 people found this helpful

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Boring

Story moves very slowly. Endless list of names, that were difficult to understand their significance in moving the plot.

10 people found this helpful

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riveting

not a happy story but truly reveals how current events evolve in new directions suddenly. a lesson for out times as well.

8 people found this helpful

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Disapointed

A stretch of words to make a paragraph in to a book. Not much of a story as was told in the book.

7 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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A Bit Breathy!

The author is such a good JA re-writer that I was surprised this was somewhat shallow. I did not appreciate or relate to the reader’s imitation of the different voices. Either have guys read the make parts or just read them. The female version of the male voices was silly. Sorry! Spoiled it for me!!

3 people found this helpful